The Military Sealift Command is worried about its inability to plan for a threatened federal budget sequestration that would require 10 percent cuts at the start of 2013, said John S. Thackrah, the command’s executive director.
“We are all just holding our breath,” Thackrah said in a speech at the annual meeting of the United Seamen’s Service.
The sequestration threat arose when a bipartisan congressional “supercommittee” last year failed to agree on additional deficit reduction as part of a deal to raise the budget ceiling. As a result, 10 percent line-item budget cuts are scheduled to kick in on Jan. 2. Half of the cuts will come from the Defense Department.
Thackrah said Defense agencies have been directed by Office of Management and Budget “to do no preparations whatsoever” for the threatened sequestration. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
“When we in the Department of Defense got a directive from the Office of Management and Budget, ‘Do not exert resources, Do not spend appropriated money to do planning around sequestration,’ that’s what we did…You would think there would be squads of people walking the halls of the Pentagon working on planning this.”
The sealift command has the responsibility of resupplying, refueling and prepositioning navy ships. Since his appointment in 2010, Thackrah has overseen a reorganization that created separate units for the government-operated and contract-operated ships.
Thackrah said a 10 percent, across-the-board sequestration, coupled with likely budget cuts next year, would require reprogramming of major contracts with sealift command contractors.
“You can’t drop those kinds of cuts on industry and expect action overnight,” Thackrah said. He noted that, depending on the state, companies must provide employees with 60- or 90-day notice of layoffs.
Thackrah said he hopes lawmakers and the administration can agree on budget issues in time to head off problems. “It’s the lack of action right now that’s causing all the drama,” he said. “As we go through this summer, this is going to get really, really tough.”