Almost all of the Pentagon’s nearly 800,000 civilian employees would likely have to be placed on unpaid leave for a month this year if automatic defense spending cuts go into effect in March as now planned, a top defense budget analyst said on Wednesday.
Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think-tank, predicted the across-the-board spending cuts, which were delayed until March 1 under a law passed on New Year’s Day, were more likely than before.
“(The Department of Defense) dodged a bullet once on this. There’s another round locked and loaded in the chamber. I’m not sure they can keep dodging those bullets every time … Eventually one of them is going to hit,” he told a briefing.
The Pentagon faces $500 billion in across-the-board cuts to projected spending over the next decade under a process known as sequestration. The cuts, part of an effort to address the huge U.S. budget deficits, were supposed to go into effect on January 2, but Congress passed a law delaying them until March 1.
The Pentagon’s base budget under the current funding mechanism is $534 billion. Harrison said the new law had reduced the size of the cuts expected during the 2013 fiscal year, which began in October. He calculated that the cuts on January 2 would have been $62.8 billion, while the March 1 reductions are more likely to be around $48.1 billion.
Those figures are similar to the projections made by Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale, who said on Monday the cuts expected on January 2 had been about $62 billion but had been reduced to about $45 billion under the New Year’s agreement.