* Plan seeks $2.4 billion to begin U.S. base closure process
* Civilian workforce to shrink by up to 50,000 over 5 years
* Budget starting point for negotiations, unlikely to pass
By David Alexander and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, April 10 The Pentagon proposed a
$526.6 billion budget on Wednesday that calls for closing bases,
slashing the civilian workforce and scrapping arms programs,
holding out hope the U.S. Congress might still opt for an
alternative to even more draconian cuts already on their way.
The proposed 2014 fiscal year budget would let the U.S.
Defense Department implement new spending reductions of $150
billion over the next decade rather than forcing it to carry out
the $500 billion in automatic cuts known as sequestration that
began on March 1.
But defense analysts criticized the plan. One said it would
be "dead on arrival" in Congress because of the politically
difficult steps it requires and could trigger new budget cuts
that would extend the financial uncertainty that has caused
turmoil at the Pentagon in recent months.
With the United States still at war in Afghanistan, and
grappling with tensions on the Korean peninsula, U.S. Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel said the new budget plan would buy the
Pentagon needed time, delaying most of the $150 billion
reduction until after 2018.
"While no agency welcomes further budget cuts, the
president's deficit reduction proposal requested in this budget
gives the department time," Hagel said.
The proposed budget asks Congress to take a series of
politically difficult steps, including starting a new U.S. base
closure process, increasing healthcare fees for military
retirees and slowing military pay increases.
Defense officials said the department also planned to reduce
its civilian workforce by 40,000 to 50,000 over five years,
mainly through attrition, and take new steps to reduce the cost
of healthcare, including overhauling treatment facilities.
"The costs of infrastructure, overhead, acquisitions and
personnel compensation must be addressed in order to put the
Department of Defense's budget on a sustainable path -
particularly given the pressures on our top-line budget," Hagel
told a budget briefing.
The budget includes $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan
and other overseas operations, the same amount as requested last
year. Comptroller Robert Hale said the figure was a placeholder
and would ultimately be somewhat lower, but still high because
of the cost of removing equipment from Afghanistan.
The spending plan is part of the budget President Barack
Obama sent to Congress on Wednesday. It stands little chance of
being enacted into law and will serve largely as a negotiating
tool with Republicans, who have outlined budget proposals of
The Defense Department is in the midst of a long-term budget
drawdown after a decade of increases. It began implementing $487
billion in cuts to proposed spending in 2012 and was hit by an
additional $500 billion over a decade starting on March 1.
While looking for ways to cut back in the current tight
fiscal environment, the Pentagon budget would continue to fund
high-priority programs and initiatives, including the strategic
"pivot" to the Asia-Pacific announced last year.
It includes $8.4 billion for continued development of the
three variants of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter, the Pentagon's most expensive procurement program.
It also includes $10.9 billion for new ship construction,
$9.2 billion for missile defenses, $379 million for development
of a new long-range bomber, $4.7 billion for cyberspace
operations and $10.1 billion for space
The plan aims to save $9.9 billion by restructuring and
canceling arms programs.
The defense budget is $52 billion higher than spending caps
set by law for 2014 and is based on the assumption that a deal
can be reached with Congress to replace the cuts that began on
March 1 with an alternative package of tax increases and
The two sides have been trying for two years without success
to reach a deal to avoid the cuts.
Obama's budget proposal would replace the Pentagon's $500
billion sequestration cut with a $150 billion reduction, most of
it spread over a five-year period beginning several years from
now. Some $34 billion in cuts would be implemented over the next
Defense analysts criticized the White House for failing to
take sequestration into account. Mackenzie Eaglen, of the
American Enterprise Institute, said it would lead to "continued
uncertainty" over the Pentagon budget, and Laicie Heeley, at the
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said the plan
would be "essentially dead on arrival" in Congress.
Defense industry executives welcomed the administration's
effort to reduce the spending cuts to $150 billion over the next
decade but worried the proposal would be dismissed out of hand
by Congress because of differences over proposed cuts.
"Sequestration is in effect. I'd like to see a budget that
reflects what the reality is going to be," said David Melcher,
chief executive of defense contractor ITT Exelis Corp. "Ignoring
it doesn't solve the problem."
The Pentagon budget asks Congress to begin a new round of
U.S. Base Realignment and Closure proceedings, a proposal that
was rejected by lawmakers last year.
This year's request includes $2.4 billion over five years to
pay for the base closure process. Closures disrupt local
economies and cost a huge amount upfront, saving money only over
the long run.
Based on estimates from the last round of base closures that
started in 2005, the Pentagon is believed to have more than 20
percent surplus of infrastructure.