White House orders Pentagon to prepare for sequestration

 Officials from the Office of Management and Budget directed DOD leaders to start assembling a framework to deal with the $500 billion in automatic defense cuts that will begin next year unless Congress passes legislation to stop them.

“We don’t have all the specifics yet,” DOD Press Secretary George Little said during a briefing at the Pentagon. 

"This really just has begun. We don’t have specifics on programs or personnel actions," he added, according to media reports.

The planning effort represents a major break from the Pentagon's policy to not take any action in response to the sequestration threat. 

In September, DOD officials told The Hill that they had not taken sequestration into account when planning for the department's upcoming budget proposal for fiscal year 2013, and President Obama has long said that the cuts — which were set in motion by the debt-ceiling deal last year — should not happen.

When asked in September whether department officials had considered drafting two budgets — one reflecting normal Pentagon expenditures and another reflecting the fiscal impact of sequestration — the answer from DOD spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins was an emphatic no.

"As we have said before, we are not planning for sequestration to take place, and that includes our work on the [fiscal] '14 budget," she told The Hill. 

But with less than a month to go before the massive budget cuts go into effect, the White House's decision to order DOD to begin the planning process does not bode well for efforts on Capitol Hill to come up with a plan to duck sequestration. 

The defense industry has lobbied tirelessly this year to prevent sequestration from taking effect, but is running out of time to prevent the first installment of the cuts — around $55 billion at the Pentagon — from being triggered on Jan. 3.

"We may not get a grand bargain in the next 28 days," Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush said during a speech on Tuesday. 

However, the defense industry chief said there was "no reason" the White House and Congress could not come together and draft the framework to stop sequestration.

Developing that framework before the January deadline would allow Congress to "meet their obligations to us and the [American] public … to restore fiscal order" to the country, Pratt & Whitney President David Hess added during the same Tuesday speech in Washington. 

Bush of Northrop Grumman said having a rough outline in place for a sequestration deal would also go a long way to alleviating the uncertainty in the defense sector about military spending and contracts.