Hagel: Congress will not 'rescue' DOD from sequester

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has little to no hope that ongoing sequestration talks on Capitol Hill will rescue the Pentagon from the next round of draconian budget cuts. 

While the Pentagon chief lauded the positive tone of the sequestration negotiations, "I do not expect any rescue" from lawmakers before the next round of across-the-board cuts under sequestration, he said. 

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"I know there are conversations that have been going on [on Capitol Hill], which I understand have been optimistic about maybe the Congress reaching an agreement," he said. 

"Everything is still rather uncertain, and that's what has been the most difficult part of all of this," Hagel told reporters on Wednesday. 

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he was “hopeful” that the House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and the Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), could reach a deal, but that none was yet at hand.

“Paul Ryan came in today and gave us an update on where they were,” Boehner said at his weekly Capitol press conference. “I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to work this out, but there’s clearly no agreement.”

Under sequestration, the Pentagon is staring down $500 billion in mandatory spending cuts. The cuts began in March and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.

Inside the Pentagon, department officials are already drafting their fiscal 2015 budget plan, the department's first spending blueprint with sequestration cuts factored in. 

Hagel also outlined details of plans to slash 20 percent of all personnel from directorates within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Joint Staff.

The plan eliminates four deputy assistant secretary of Defense positions and their related staff, as well as consolidates several entities into a handful of OSD positions. 

"These reductions are only a first step in DOD's efforts to realign defense spending to meet new fiscal realities and strategic priorities," Hagel said of the changes.

That consolidation plan and FY '15 budget build would coincide with the department's Quadrennial Defense Review, which, this year, will provide the overarching strategy for the U.S. military after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

That plan will drive large-scale changes in how the U.S. military trains for and fights future wars, as well as how the Pentagon does business within its own bureaucracy and other government agencies. 

Despite that ongoing work, Hagel once again appealed to lawmakers to be a willing partner with the Pentagon to offset the most damaging budget cuts under sequester. 

"We have to plan for all possibilities, and ... we'll get to an intersection here, where we're going have to make some decisions," Hagel said. 

"I would hope that the Congress would take some action before they go home for Christmas and not let us continue to dangle out there," he added.