House GOP blames DOD on sequester

Tension among Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee boiled over on Wednesday, as panel members blamed Pentagon leaders for playing a role in the looming fiscal crisis facing the Defense Department under sequestration.

During Wednesday's hearing, committee Republican Reps. Randy Forbes (Va.) and Rob Bishop (Utah) slammed DOD for its refusal to plan for the massive, across-the-board cuts tied to the White House's sequestration plan.

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Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and the heads of the service branches appeared before the panel, to again plead their case against the automatic budget cuts.

Under the plan, Pentagon coffers are expected to be hit with nearly $500 billion in spending reductions over the next decade.

Forbes asked point-blank whether DOD's decision to not take sequestration into account during its budget planning process was a mistake.

"There's been 560 days since [sequestration] was signed into law as the law of the land ... [and] just within the last couple of weeks, [is] when we've received the memos from you guys about the impacts that this was going to have," Forbes said.

In September, DOD officials told The Hill that they had not taken sequestration into account when planning for the department's 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.

In December, officials from the Office of Management and Budget finally directed DOD leaders to start assembling a framework to deal with the fiscal impacts of sequestration.

"Was it a mistake to wait that long ... to do the planning and communicate to the American people the impacts that we would have from sequestration?" the Virginia Republican asked.

During the same hearing, Bishop made crystal clear that the department's inaction to plan for sequestration made it more difficult for congressional lawmakers to come up with a viable solution.

"You are part of the problem ... you helped cause this," Bishop angrily told the DOD and military witnesses.

"You had to realize there had to be some lead time" to adequately prepare for the heavy financial impact to the department via sequestration, the Utah Republican said, adding the "silence" from DOD regarding sequestration planning only added confusion to an already difficult situation.

"You bear some of this responsibility, [and] there is a lot of blame to go around," Bishop said.

Carter fired back at those accusations, telling Bishop and Forbes the Pentagon has been sounding the alarm on the devastating impacts of sequester ever since the law went on the books in 2011.

"We have been describing the consequences of sequester for a very long time. We've been anticipating them. They're not hard to see," Carter said. "Planning isn't the problem [it's] never been the problem. The problem was doing something."

Carter explained that DOD and the White House were reluctant to begin taking action on sequester, fearing that effort would remove the impetus for Congress to come up with a plan to avoid it.

"We're now acting as though sequestration is going to happen. I wish we weren't and I still hope it gets averted, but we've had to start taking some actions now so that it doesn't get worse later," Carter said.

In response, Bishop replied: "That answer is not acceptable. The mere fact of the matter is the planning actually came out in 2012. You were not vigilant on this issue early enough. I'm sorry."