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Base ops, travel lead early budget-cut targets

Jan. 23, 2013 - 12:20PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 23, 2013 - 12:20PM  |  
Facilities and construction costs are among the areas proposed by Navy officials as ripe for budget cuts, with travel, IT budgets and the civilian workforce also likely targets.
Facilities and construction costs are among the areas proposed by Navy officials as ripe for budget cuts, with travel, IT budgets and the civilian workforce also likely targets. (MC3 Dominique Pineiro / Navy)
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Facing a major budget crisis before winter ends, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has revealed a series of cost-cutting measures under consideration for the service. The moves include slashing spending on facilities and base operations; reducing travel; cutting information technology and administrative budgets; delaying ship and unit inactivations; and canceling old facility demolitions.

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Facing a major budget crisis before winter ends, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has revealed a series of cost-cutting measures under consideration for the service. The moves include slashing spending on facilities and base operations; reducing travel; cutting information technology and administrative budgets; delaying ship and unit inactivations; and canceling old facility demolitions.

While active-duty personnel are safe, the Navy is also looking at civilian furloughs, termination of temporary employees and a civilian hiring freeze.

The Navy is also trying to slow its spending and is planning to make any interim cost-saving steps reversible so that any damage can be undone if funding comes back.

While much of the discussion in Washington centers on a second threat of sequestration, another deadline looms at the end of March: the end of the six-month continuing resolution now funding the government. Between the sequestration debates and the very real possibility of another CR — possibly for the rest of fiscal 2013 — the Pentagon and the individual military services are urgently concerned about the immediate and long-term effects of the continuing funding disruptions.

"Should Congress decide to extend the CR through the end of FY 13, the Navy and Marine Corps would not have enough money to meet FY 13 requirements," Mabus flatly stated in a fleetwide message issued this month.

In particular, base operations and maintenance accounts face a projected shortfall of more than $4 billion — money, Mabus said, "which funds Navy and Marine Corps readiness."

The planned reductions "will not solve the problem completely," Mabus said in a memo. "We will only be able to sustain current fleet operations. We will not be able to sufficiently maintain and reset our forces for future operations."

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Jan. 14 letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked lawmakers for "immediate action" and new legislation that will allow them to keep flying aircraft, keep ships at sea, train service members and avoid furloughing 800,000 civilians.

"We are on the brink of creating a hollow force due to an unprecedented convergence of budget conditions and legislation that could require the Department to retain more forces than requested while underfunding that force's readiness," states the letter, co-signed by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert.

"Troops on the front lines will receive the support they need, but the rest of the force will be compromised. Should this looming readiness crisis be left unaddressed, we will have to ground aircraft, return ships to port, and stop driving combat vehicles in training. Training will be reduced by almost half of what we were planning just three months ago."

Rear Adm. Joseph Mulloy, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget and director of the fiscal management division, provided some more guidance on cost-saving measures in a separate memo. He said commanders should consider Defense Department-authorized incentives to entice civilian employees to quit or retire early. There may also be civilian furloughs, and commanding officers are allowed to cut their number of temporary and short-term employees. Government-sponsored conferences between January and March should be rescheduled to April or later, and travel that is not mission-essential should be minimized, Mulloy wrote.

Budget officers are still determining exactly where the cuts will occur, so details about how individual commands will be affected are not yet available, said Lt. Courtney Hillson, a Navy spokeswoman.

If there is another continuing resolution, commands are supposed to total the number of lost flying hours, steaming days, vehicle miles and other operations and other readiness-related effects. Also, commands won't be able to start new contracts, do any new multiyear procurements, or increase the cost of contracts, Mulloy wrote.

Mabus, in a Jan. 17 speech at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium in Arlington, Va., said Congress must give the sea service more control in managing what funds it does have.

"Nobody likes budget cuts, but if Defense or Navy has to be a part of some ... grand bargaining or strategy deal, then give us the top line. Let us manage how any cuts, how any reductions are made. Let us put dollars against strategy instead of simply cutting the top line," he said. "I think we have shown, I think pretty decisively so, that we know how to manage the budget."

Predictions about how Congress will act before the March 1 deadline point to a last-minute deal to avoid sequestration.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he expects Senate leadership will create a plan, as the deadline closes, that could garner bipartisan support.

Courtney, whose district includes the submarines at Groton, said he is "somewhat disappointed" the House isn't addressing serious financial measures.

Courtney, nicknamed "Two Subs Joe" for pushing the Navy to build two submarines per year instead of one, said the shipbuilding caucus would be hit particularly hard.

Navy Undersecretary Bob Work, in his speech at the SNA symposium, said he expects Congress will avoid sequestration because the governmentwide cuts are a strong deterrent. However, he doesn't expect a new budget, either, and the sea services will be bound by a continuing resolution that extends through the end of the fiscal year.

Staff writers ccavas@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">Christopher P. Cavas and Sean Reilly contributed to this report.

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