Opinion Columns & Blogs

Steven P. Bucci: How will defense cuts affect you?

Washington, D.C., is abuzz with wonky discussions on potential mandatory budget cuts that will hit on Jan. 2. The process is called “sequestration.” It is so technical that right now you may be tempted to move on to another article. After all, this is merely “inside Washington baseball,” right? Sadly, it isn’t.

The Defense Department budget is set to absorb the lion’s share of the New Year’s cuts, which will go into effect if steps are not taken to stop them. Defense makes up about 11 percent of federal spending, but will eat 47 percent of the cuts. That’s a pretty sizable chunk.

Several concerned congressmen and senators have begun to do “road shows” to raise awareness of the issue. Their main focus is on the communities that will be most directly hit, those around the big federal military facilities. Think San Diego, Fayetteville, N.C., and Norfolk, Va. The message to these folks is primarily an economic one, and one that focuses on the dangerous effects on the defense industrial base.

What about you? What about all those Americans who don’t live near a fort or a base, or have jobs that support defense? No big deal, right? Unfortunately, dead wrong.

Two prominent experts in the field of homeland security – one a former assistant secretary of defense, the other a retired three-star general from the National Guard – discussed this issue recently at the Heritage Foundation. They pointed out an overlooked effect of the cuts. That would be the ability of the Defense Department to fund the National Guard when it’s under the command and control of state governors.

The Guard (Air and Army) can serve in three different manners under present law. One is state active duty (funded by the state and under command of the state). The next is federal duty (funded by the Defense Department, under its command – called Title 10, the equivalent of the regular federal military).

The third one is called Title 32. This is funded by the Defense Department but still under the command of the state to which the troops belong. This is the most prevalent way to use the Guard when you have a problem. It allows the cash-strapped states to use their assets as they see fit (which is normally the most effective way), but to allow the Defense Department to pay the salaries of the troops.

Wildfires? Call out the Guard, ask for Title 32. Floods? Title 32 again. Major catastrophic event across multiple states, such as a big earthquake or a series of coordinated terrorist events? Title 32 is still the way to go. It leverages the local know-how and connections with key local assets, but allows the cost to be handled by the feds.

If sequestration hits, the ability of the Defense Department to provide these Title 32 funds will go away. All that discretionary ability to help your governor use your state’s National Guard assets will evaporate. The governor will be forced to make the call to send help or not, based on his own very limited budget. You could be left waiting a long time before help arrives.

Sequestration is not a “Washington” issue. It will hit any one of us, regardless of where we live or what we do, and it will hurt.

These cuts must be reversed. This is no longer an academic or theoretical discussion, but one that will have potentially devastating effects on every American.