Constituents at a Great Falls, Montana, town hall meeting understand what many in Congress do not seem to understand: Cuts mandated by budget sequestration will erode the defense industrial base to the point where irreversible damage may be done to military readiness.
Recounting a town hall meeting with Congressman Denny Rehberg (R–MT) in Great Falls, Heritage’s James Carafano writes that citizens “were worried about jobs.… What made even less sense to these folks was how the cuts could go forward when leaders on both sides of the aisle know it will create a national security nightmare.”
The cuts in question are those mandated by sequestration, which, if left unaddressed, will cut more than $500 billion from national security funding over the next 10 years. The concern is not over jobs or economic stimulation; it is about military readiness. As Carafano notes, the defense industry relies a great deal on “human capital.” Many of the skills that go into building, maintaining, and repairing military equipment often take years to master. Losing these skills harms military readiness, because it often means that programs take longer and are more expensive to build. Furthermore, when these workers leave their respective industries, it can take years to get their skills back.
Budgetary uncertainty at the Department of Defense can dramatically affect the suppliers on which it relies. The cuts from sequestration are perceived as so catastrophic that they are already affecting defense contractors. These companies are required by law to give 60-day notices of job terminations. They often rely on long-term planning and buying of raw materials and subcontracting to deliver on time and under cost. The closer we get to sequestration’s deadline, the more these companies will have to cut back in preparation.
The Armed Forces are already in dire need of modernization. Sequestration will exacerbate this concern—and not only regarding the planes, ships, and vehicles that the forces will have to retire prematurely. The thousands of defense industry jobs lost due to canceled contracts and less work pose a significant readiness challenge as well. While America has ridden through austere defense budgets in the past, the cuts that will begin in January 2013 could possibly weaken the industrial base to an unprecedented level.
While the active duty and reserve forces scramble to figure out how to protect the country with fewer resources, their lifeline—the defense industry—will be scrambling for work elsewhere. The government should fulfill its constitutional responsibility and provide for the common defense. First and foremost, this means stopping sequestration.