The Budget Control Act of 2011 had the good intentions of controlling spending while approving an increase in the U.S. debt limit. The intent was to provide an increase to the debt limit while beginning a long-overdue effort to cut federal government spending.
As an incentive, the act mandated that approximately $1.2 trillion in budget cuts would kick in if Congress failed to enact legislation to cut a similar amount over the next 10 years. It further stipulated that half of these cuts must come from the U.S. Department of Defense.
In short, if Congress doesn't develop a specific budget meeting the targets for spending cuts, then an automatic cut of about $600 billion is forced on the Department of Defense. This would be on top of the $487 billion in cuts for the next 10 years identified in the 2013 DOD budget proposal.
The secretary of defense has already said that the sequestration cuts would be devastating. Current budgets meet the revised strategy that now focuses on the Asian-Pacific and Middle East regions. Those missions, while difficult, were possible within the $487 billion cuts identified in the 2013 defense budget. To lay on top of those cuts the additional $600 billion would essentially throw out the underlying assumptions and budgetary premises enabling DOD and the Air Force to meet those strategic tasks.
The Oklahoma City and Tinker Air Force Base impact needs to be articulated. These massive cuts will ultimately force tougher decisions on the Air Force to choose between force modernization (new weapons systems) or sustainment of an already aging fleet of aircraft. Sustainment — the maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft and their engines — is the heart of Tinker's mission. As sustainment dollars are cut, the impact will be felt at Tinker.
Tinker employs thousands of personnel engaged in sustainment. Those jobs may be at risk, but preservation of the Tinker Depot workforce is a high Air Force priority. Next in the pyramid of impact are the large aerospace contractors. These companies, such as Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and Northrop Grumman, are substantial enough that they can survive the cuts but may need to consolidate or reduce operations.
However, at the bottom of this structure are the medium to small aerospace companies. They're the most cost-effective providers of components and services that can meet a wide range of vital needs. These businesses are the “canary in the cage” for the aerospace industry and employ many people around Tinker. They may be the first to suffer and the first to close as a result of the sequestration mandated defense cuts.
If these vital and numerous companies must close, they may be lost to Oklahoma forever. To dodge these potentially disastrous bullets, Congress must enact real budget legislation and not use the Department of Defense as the backstop for its failure to act responsibly.
Tarpley is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a former inspector general for Air Combat Command at Tinker AFB. He is a defense marketing consultant and vice president of the Air Force Association, Gerrity Chapter.