* Department says committed to communicating with employees
* Civilian employees could be among earliest to feel cuts
* Pentagon also looking at cuts' impact on strategy, weapons
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, Dec 5 The Pentagon said on Wednesday
the White House budget office has directed it to begin planning
how to implement billions of dollars in across-the-board
spending reductions if Congress and the president fail to agree
to avert the cuts before Jan. 2.
The decision reversed the Pentagon's yearlong position that
it was not planning for the automatic cuts, known as
sequestration. The cuts were included in last year's Budget
Control Act because officials thought the process was so onerous
it would force rival political parties to compromise.
But no spending deal was reached. With the automatic cuts
now looming Jan. 2, Pentagon spokesman George Little said the
department had been directed by the White House Office of
Management and Budget to begin "internal planning" for the
"Naturally we hope very much that sequestration will be
avoided," Little said. "We don't want to go off the fiscal
cliff, but in consultation with OMB we think that it is prudent
at this stage to begin at least some limited internal planning."
The OMB instruction comes as the White House and lawmakers
are engaged in a last-ditch effort to find an alternative
package of revenue increases and spending cuts that would enable
them to avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board
cuts required under sequestration, part of the so-called fiscal
Nearly half of the automatic spending cuts would fall on the
Pentagon. The $500 billion would be in addition to the $487
billion in cuts to defense spending mandated in the Budget
Control Act. The department began implementing those reductions
in its 2012 budget.
Civilian employees of the Department of Defense are likely
to be among the earliest to feel the cuts, according to an
analysis by Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and
Budgetary Assessments, a national security think tank.
He estimated in a report in August that as many as 108,000
civilian employees of the department could lose their jobs in
the weeks immediately after sequestration goes into effect. The
president has exempted military salaries from the spending cuts.
Little said Pentagon planning was still at an early stage
and he wasn't sure yet when the department would begin
communicating with employees but it was committed to do so as
soon as there was a better understanding what would happen.
He said a communications task force was being established to
keep the department's 3 million workers -- about one in every
100 Americans -- informed about how the spending cuts would
affect them and their jobs.
"Our intent is to not implement sequestration in an absurd
way internally inside the Department of Defense," Little said.
"So we expect to, through our planning efforts, identify not
just numbers but how we communicate to our 3 million person work
force and prepare them for what may come down the pike."
While the impact on Pentagon employees is a top concern, the
department may also begin looking at the effect of the cuts on
weapons programs and other spending.
"Personnel ... certainly is something that is of serious
concern to me. But I wouldn't rule out that we're looking at
other areas as well," Little said. "I think it would make sense
for us to look at the full landscape of what might be affected
inside the department if sequestration were to occur."
The Pentagon is also concerned about how the cuts could
affect the new U.S. defense strategy it unveiled in January and
began implementing over the past year.
The strategy calls for a shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific
region. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that deep
additional cuts to the budget could undermine the new strategy
and force Pentagon planners to go back to the drawing board.
"We're very concerned that sequestration could have a
devastating effect overall that would require us at least
temporarily to throw out the strategy that we have so carefully
put in place over the past year," Little said.
"That's something that we really want to avoid. This defense
strategy is the right one for this department going forward.
It's right for our military."