By Scott Peters 9/18/2013
It is the top priority of Congress to ensure that the United States is safe and secure. We are acutely aware of this in San Diego, part of which I represent, where the military and defense related industries hold significant economic and cultural importance. San Diego is a military city to its core. The Congressional district I represent is home to seven military installations, including the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
When I was on the San Diego City Council and a member of the Port Commission I was honored to interact with local military leaders. In my new role in Congress, and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I’ve continued that interaction with visits to these bases to hear how Congress can help them fulfill their mission of protecting this country. Each and every one of them tells me that they are forced to spend large amounts of time figuring out how to accommodate the nonsensical, across the board cuts from the sequester, which total $37 billion this fiscal year from defense. This leaves them with less time to focus on the strategic planning necessary to defend our nation.
They are forced to ask questions like: ‘which contracts should I delay or cancel?’, ‘which civilian employees should we keep or let go?’, ‘are there open positions that are important but can go unfilled?’, ‘how do I make long term plans without knowing what the budget will be?’.
Given the interconnectedness of San Diego’s economy between the private sector and the military, I also visit with local employers who contract with the Department of Defense to hear first-hand from them about how the federal government can help, or when we need to get out of the way, in order for them to succeed.
Not surprisingly, I hear similar messages from these employers, many of whom are among the largest employers in San Diego. They provide vital technologies, equipment, and services to the military in support of the mission. They tell me their biggest impediment to success is the constant uncertainty caused by the lack of a federal budget. This uncertainty leaves them wondering if they can count on the contract award actually coming through or if they should staff up or down.
Our base commanders and business leaders – not to mention the servicemembers, contractors, employees, supporting families, and communities – deserve better. They need answers on what to expect from the federal budget.
I think that we can all agree that there is wasteful spending in the federal budget. Getting rid of it, and saving billions of taxpayer dollars, should be a top priority. But sequester cuts, by slicing across every department, are not mission driven. Commanders have little flexibility on where to cut costs, whether it be letting facilities maintenance go beyond scheduled repairs or reducing training hours for pilots. The inability to make strategic planning decisions puts our national security in jeopardy.
Just in San Diego, more than 25,000 civilian contractors have faced furloughs of more than a week this year. Unless Congress works toward a budget compromise, contractors and defense related industries will likely face cuts, furloughs, and increased uncertainty.
Bottom line, sequester cuts, precisely because they were created without the mission in mind, are hurting our national security apparatus and leave us vulnerable long term. In San Diego, and across the country, real people are being impacted, the economy is being harmed, and our mission readiness is suffering.
It is time to give our commanders answers. It is time for a real budget compromise.
Scott Peters represents the 52nd District of California. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.