Army secretary offers sequester warning

Army secretary offers sequester warning
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If the sequester returns, the Army may not be able to respond to future, unforeseen threats, Army Secretary John McHugh asserted Tuesday.

McHugh argued that the ceilings on government spending put into place for a decade by the 2011 Budget Control Act are cramping the military, and that they should be lifted.

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McHugh made his remarks during a conversation at the American Enterprise Institute about the future of the Army as he prepares to depart his role by November.

The Obama administration has called for ending the sequester. For the last two fiscal years, the Pentagon has had relief from the spending reductions because of a separate congressional spending bill, but the ceilings are set to return in fiscal year 2016.

“If sequestration returns – any meaningful budget reduction in addition to that which we’re trying to manage right now – or that next unforeseen thing of any dimension comes forward, we’re in a very, very bad place,” McHugh said Tuesday.

“I’ve testified, if either of those occur, let alone both, somebody’s going to have to tell us to stop doing something, and frankly as I look at the world right now, I’m not sure what that would be.”

To McHugh, the most important focus of the Army going forward will be readiness. Readiness, he said, includes modernization such as reactive armor, robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles and energy programs.

“These are absolutely critical things no matter what the enemy may look like, whatever the enemy may come from,” he said. “So we try to be smarter. But our readiness continues to be a concern for me.”

The Army’s readiness stands at about 32 to 33 percent, McHugh said. That’s sustainable now, he said, but not likely into the future.

One difficulty in getting the necessary funding, McHugh said, is getting lawmakers outside of the House and Senate Armed Services committees to understand the Army’s needs.

“We are very, very confident and comfortable with the posture of our oversight committees,” said McHugh. “If all we have to do was get our committees to act, whether it was repealing (the Budget Control Act) or some other measure, we’d be in far better shape. But that’s not how this democracy works.”