Transcript: HASC Rep. Buck McKeon’s Q&A on the impacts of defense sequestration

House Armed Services Committee hearing on “‪The Future of the Military Services and Consequences of Defense Sequestration‬” held on Nov. 2, 2011

Transcript of Rep. Buck McKeon’s (R-Calif.) Q&A on the impacts of defense sequestration:

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.):

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. IMAGE SOURCE:

“For the last few decades, we’ve been spending money that we didn’t have. And I’d say probably all across the government we probably had some spending that included some waste. That probably is true in the Defense Department as with all other departments in government.

“I think [former Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates looking ahead and seeing that we’re going to have some cuts a little over a year ago asked you to find $100 billion in savings, and said that you would be able to keep that for things that you needed more – just a balancing – find efficiencies, find waste – to save money that had been spent on things that we didn’t need as much as the other things. You did that. Then he said, you were only going to get to keep $74 billion of it. $26 billion – I think was the number – had to be used for ‘must-pay’ items. In the course of that, he said we’ve found another $78 billion that we would be able to cut out of future defense costs.

“Before he’d been giving speeches saying we needed to have a 1% increase over and above inflation just to keep where we are in the future years, that $78 billion wiped that out and it also caused a reduction in end strength in the Army and the Marines of 47,000 by the year 2015. And then the president gave a speech and said we have to cut another $400 billion out of defense. All of this has happened in the last year.

“And then we had the Deficit Reduction Act and that had a number in it – we keep seeing that – $350 billion.

“But I met with Admiral [Michael] Mullen not too long before his retirement. He said he had given you the number $465 billion that you had to come up with in savings over the next 10 years. That’s already done.

“So when we all came back to start this new Congress and we talked about the budget and everything had to be cut and everything had to be on the table, people understand that out of the first tranche of cuts that we made of almost $1 trillion and defense was half of the table. And you’ve already done it.

Those cuts that we’re talking about are going to kick in in next year’s budget, but you’ve already made the steps or already making those cuts. I’m not sure that that’s happening across the rest of government. I know it’s not happening in the area of entitlements, which we’re looking to the special committee to come up with.

“I think it’s important that everybody understands that when we start seeing these cuts, they’re going to find out that they’re real. As most of you have said, many of it is irreversible.

“When I met over the weekend with Admiral [Jonathan] Greenert, we were down in Norfolk and I got to meet with the crew of the York. One of them asked me, ‘I’ve been in the Navy now 12 years and they won’t let me re-enlist.’ I think that’s just starting. And then another sailor asked me, ‘What’s going to happen to our retirement? What’s going to happen to our future?’ All of those things are going to start coming.

“We have had now five hearings, as I’ve mentioned earlier, and then one that talked about the impact on services. This will be the sixth. And then we had one last week with three economists talking about what will be the economic impact. We don’t have the total number of jobs that will be lost out of uniformed personnel, out of civilians working in defense, and out of the contractors that make the things that our war fighters use to protect our nation. We do know that if the sequestration hits, it will be about 1.5 million jobs.

“So we’re talking about deep cuts in defense that will affect our readiness – it has to – that will affect – when it gets down to the bottom line – we’re probably going to be talking about training, we’re probably talking about all of the things that we’ve been trying to say are so important to have this top military – the best that we’ve ever seen in the history of this nation. And all without a talk about threat? Or about strategy? It just comes from budget driven.

“I know that if we have a clean sheet of paper, the first thing we’d probably do is look at the risks that this country faces, that the world faces, that we’re the ones that stand between the risks and the rest of the world.

“I just want to make sure that when these cuts start happening and when all of our people in our district and all of the people we represent start calling us and saying – as they’ve been telling me when I go home and talk to them – ‘That isn’t what we meant. We just wanted to cut the waste and we did not want to cut the ability to defend ourselves.’

“I’ve seen this happen – we’ve played this movie before. It happened after World War I, after World War II, after Korea, after Vietnam. We’d draw down so we won’t be prepared for the next one. That seems to be our DNA.

“I think we need to stop and talk a breath and really look at this because some of these cuts that are coming right now, we’re not going to be able to reverse next year or two years from now. The sailor that is leaving that has 12 years in the Navy – it’s going to take 12 years to replace him.

“General [Norton] Schwartz, in your testimony, you stated that the department is confident that further spending reductions beyond the more than $450 billion – I’ve heard numbers up to $489 billion – that are needed to comply with the Budget Control Act’s first round of cuts cannot be done without damaging our core military capabilities and therefore our national security. This is very serious stuff that we’re talking about. General [Martin] Dempsey told us that certain cuts would be irrevocable.

“Nevertheless, the notion persists that the department can weather further cuts for a couple of years so long as we increase funding later.

“That carrier that I saw – that those 20,000 people working on – if we just say let’s just put that on hold. You 20,000 people just take a little furlough. I found though that many of them are addicted to eating and providing for their families, and we just ask them to take a little furlough and maybe next year, we’ll come and pick up where we left off. You know, it’s not reality.

“Can each of you tell us whether you agree with General Schwartz’s assessment and provide us with examples of cuts that would have lasting impacts even if appropriations were increased in a year or two?”


General Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff of the United States Army:

“Chairman, thank you. First off, I would remind everyone that as we look at cuts in the next two years or so upfront that today the Army still has over 100,000 soldiers deployed forward in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places. Yes, we’re coming out of Iraq at the end of the year but still the significant amount of burden that the Army will face at least through 2014. And it’s important to remember that as we look at 2013 and 2014 and the impact that that would have on our ability to train and ensure that they are ready and equipped and have the processes in place.

“As you mentioned, we already are going to reduce our force structure to 520,000 and that’s before we receive these additional cuts. That will impact the up tempo of our soldiers. It’ll continue to impact the stress on the Army, its soldiers, its families, and – second in line – its equipment.

“And ultimately, if we try to fund our soldiers and equipments that are essential, it would ultimately affect our training and our readiness as we look to deter in other areas as our enemies and adversaries watch us as we reduce our capabilities within our Army.

“We’ve already had to consolidate depots. We’ve had to consolidate other areas of manufacturing. That’s allowing us to save, gain efficiencies. Additional cuts would cause us to look at that even further, and challenge our own ability and our own industrial base to provide for our soldiers and equipments that we will need and readiness that we’ll continue to need. So it’s across the board that we would be affected as we move forward.”


General James F. Amos, Commandant of United States Marine Corps:

“Mr. Chairman, from our perspective, we share the same anxieties that my fellow service chiefs have of over a greater than $450 billion addition to the bill. What it will do for our nation, there’s no question will reduce our foreign presence.

“Admiral [Jonathan] Greenert talked today about the Chinese hospital ship that’s down in our hemisphere. Our lack of foreign presence as a result of drawing back because we can’t afford the operations and maintenance funds to deployed forward – we can’t afford the ships, we can’t afford the personnel to be able to do that – will be filled by somebody. That void will be filled by another nation.

“And the net result, we don’t know what that might be but down the road it could mean a lack of access, a lack of ability to engage, to shape a nation around the world that our country believes is important to be involved in. So forward presence.

“There’s no question that it will decrease our dwell time as we shrink our force to pay the bill. We only have three ways that we can pay bills. One is in procurement, one is in personnel, and the other one is operations and maintenance. So you can dial those three dials in any combination. But there are three dials that we have. So as you increase the level of burden of the debt on the military, you are going to reduce the force presence – in other words, our armed force structure. That is going to decrease dwell time between units. It’s going to decrease the quality of life for our service members.

“Finally, it will stagnate the reset. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to struggle trying to reset the Marine Corps coming out of Afghanistan. For all our time in Iraq and Afghanistan, we purposely didn’t rotate equipment in and out. We maintained it in theater and we did our maintenance in theater and selectively rotated principal items back. We don’t have the depth on the bench to afford to not be able to reset that equipment.

“As it relates to irreversible damage – the kind that we cannot regain again – I’ll offer a couple of thoughts.

“One would be the industrial base for naval shipping. Admiral [Jonathan] Greenert talked a little about that and I’m sure he’ll talk some more. I mean, that could be terminal.

“But for – selfishly as I look parochially at the Marine Corps – the two capabilities that are being solely built throughout the world – the only places being built is the United States of America – and that’s tilt rotor technologies and that’s the short takeoff and vertical landing F-35B. There’s not another nation in the world. So if those lines are closed, that becomes terminal. That will become irreversible. You will not be able to gain that back.

“The final and probably the most important point – because we are a manpower-intensive organization – is we will lose that leadership of those NCOs and those staff non-commissioned officers at the five, six, seven year mark that have shouldered the burden over the last 10 years of our conflicts. We will lose that. They will leave. It will take us another six to 10 years – as you said – to grow that sailor down in Norfolk or that staff NCO or NCO within the Marine Corps.”


Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations of the United States Navy:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think General [Raymond] Odierno and General [James] Amos laid out the two choices pretty well.

“Our choices are similar but I go to – as General Amos said – the industrial base. Mr. Chairman, you were there and I was there. So we brought a submarine in on budget – actually under budget – and early. That’s because they’re in that mix – they’ve got the welders there, they’ve got the people there, they’re rolling. If we interrupt that, clearly we’ll pay a premium for when we attempt to reconstitute because we won’t have that efficient process going in place.

“Right now, looking just at nuclear ships – and that’s where you and I were, sir – we have 90% of the sub-vendors – these are the people who make reactor components, they make turbines and these sorts of things for the nuclear-powered ships – are single-sourced. These folks – that’s their livelihood is this naval nuclear technology. So if we interrupt that, I don’t know how many of these we’d lose or how we reconstitute it. I just don’t know.

“As you’ve said before, folks have to eat so where will the welders go? Well, they’ll go somewhere else to work. We have design engineers with pretty unique skills to build nuclear carriers and build submarines. We are in the early stages, as you know, of building, of designing our next SSBN. We need those folks. So giving them a holiday is probably not going to work.

“When the British navy did something similar – they were compelled to do it – it took them 10 years to get to build the next submarine. And that’s really not that very efficient, as we know.

“There will be layoffs, as we mentioned before. To preclude that, we’ll have to go to force structure. So my pictorial here, you’ll look around the world reduce force structure where you reduce the ships that are deployed. If you can’t do that, then you’ll have to deploy them in a shorter cycle – we call that ‘surge.’

“When you were down in Norfolk, you heard the sailors say we’re kind of tired because we’re at a pretty rapid pace in turnaround right now. So this would go on the backs of sailors and those ships, which we need more time to train and to maintain the ships so that when we do deploy them they’re fully ready, as General Amos said, to do the job of the nation. So we’ll be compelled to go there to reduce force structure.

“So it’s not a very good set of choices, but that’s what we have to contend with. We have to do our best job realizing and figuring out in that regard.

“Thank you, sir.”


General Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force:

“Sir, I can’t amplify what my colleagues have said except to emphasize that your soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are not going to go on break. I think that’s wishful thinking.”


General Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff of the United States Army:

“Chairman, if I could just follow up on that.

“We talked at a low-level specific [standpoint]. I think it’s also important to think about it in a more strategic sense in the impact.

“From an Army’s perspective, I think about our ability to prevent, our ability to win, and our ability to build, and I’d like to just talk about this for a minute.

“Our ability to win is based on our credibility. Credibility is based on our capacity, our readiness, and our modernization. Our ability to win is based on us being decisive and dominant. If we’re not decisive and dominant, we can still win but we win at the cost of the lives of our men and women because of the time and the capabilities we have would not equal to what we believe would allow us to win decisively.

“And third, as we discussed here with forward presence and other things, we have to be able to build. We have to be able to build through engagement, through foreign presence, through our ability to build partner capacity and our ally capacity, so we can go hand in hand in protecting not only the United States but our allies. Ultimately, this is what this is about, and all these things we just talked about affect that. I think that’s my biggest concern as you move forward.

“We’ll have those who attempt to exploit our vulnerabilities if we’re required to cut too much. They will watch very carefully at what we do and they will challenge our credibility. They could miscalculate, which could cause some significant issues down the road not only for our own security.

“Thank you.”


Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.):

“Thank you.”


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  1. Pingback: Sequestration will result in a 'hollowed out' military, armed forces chiefs warned | What The Folly?!

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