Pentagon notebook: Panetta to issue guide on how military should talk cuts

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta soon will issue special guidance spelling out how the military services should interact with Congress as further defense spending cuts loom, a senior Pentagon official said Monday.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told reporters the services need to know “how we can address” lawmakers and congressional staff to provide them data on the likely impact of $350 billion in security cuts ordered in the August debt deal, and $600 billion more that would be triggered if a congressional supercommittee fails to agree to $1.2 trillion in additional cuts.

During a typical budget cycle, service officials would remain “mum” about their internal budget processes, deliberations and tussels, he said during a conference here. But with Pentagon officials worried about a “doomsday” scenario should those additional cuts occur, this is no typical budget cycle, Donley made clear.

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The guidance should provide instructions to the services on how they can “convey in broad, strategic terms” the ramifications of further Pentagon funding cuts “without prejudging outcomes,” the air secretary said.

As the military services await that guidance, Donley kept up the defense sector’s hard line on additional cuts. During a morning speech, he said the Air Force cannot jettison any missions, and he promised to fight to prevent cuts to any of the service’s most-coveted hardware programs.

One government watchdog group questioned what the coming guidance will spawn.

“Panetta has already referred to the debt deal’s trigger cuts as a ‘doomsday mechanism,’ so I can only imagine that his guidance will reflect this ill-founded, grandiose rhetoric,” Ben Freeman, a national security fellow at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), told The Hill in a Monday evening email.

Lockheed could slow F-35 production 

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee version of 2012 Pentagon spending legislation would force Lockheed Martin to slow its F-35 production rate, Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Tom Burbage said.

The panel on Thursday approved a bill that would cut $695 million from the Pentagon's $9.7 billion F-35 funding request. It proposes freezing F-35 production levels at the 2011 rate through 2013 because the test program could not use all the new jets.

Burbage said “congressional marks,” if enacted in a final version of Pentagon spending legislation, would force Lockheed to slow its current production rate that is turning out four F-35s per month.

One issue the Senate panel’s provision would cause the defense giant to examine, Burbage said, is “do we bring more people on or not? Another is how to disrupt the program’s large list of supplier companies the least, he added.

‘The stakes are higher’ 

The Air Force and the other military services each have fashioned multiple plans at the behest of Pentagon brass that identify ways they would enact the budget cuts ordered in the debt-reduction deal, Donley said.

The air secretary, during a briefing with reporters, called them “alternatives,” meaning they diverge from the paths on which the services would otherwise take their spending plans.

“The numbers are higher,” Donley said, referring to the amounts each service must cut. And that means “the stakes are higher” for the Pentagon’s internal 2013 budget-building process.