JOINT BASE CHARLESTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned hundreds of Department of Defense workers Wednesday that there is no good news when it comes to the Pentagon budget.
“We’re just at the front end of the consequences here,” Hagel told about 300 department workers at Joint Base Charleston during a morning visit.
The department is trying to trim almost $500 billion from its budget over 10 years, he said. Under the federal sequester, another $52 billion is to be cut from the Pentagon budget in the fiscal year beginning in October.
“Of course there will be consequences,” Hagel warned. “There will probably not be furloughs. We’re going to have to eliminate some jobs.”
The warning came in response to a question from a female worker who, because of furloughs requiring workers to take 11 days without pay this year, said she has had to take a second job to support her young children. She had asked if workers’ jobs and retirement would be protected if there are more furloughs.
“There is no good news,” Hagel said, adding that when department workers have to take second jobs to support their families “it breaks my heart.”
The furloughs are the result of across-the board sequestration budget cuts that Congress agreed to as part of a 2011 deal to raise the nation’s debt limit.
“Sequestration is a mindless and irresponsible process,” Hagel told the gathering. “You know it, and I know it.”
Hagel was on the third day of a three-day trip to visit military bases in the Carolinas and Florida. He left Charleston for Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Hagel said the budget situation is difficult and he has consulted with everyone from top brass to enlisted personnel as he wrestles with the challenge.
“No one is going to be happy,” he said. “My job is not to make people happy. My job is to prepare this institution and the country for what is to come.”
“This is not just about numbers. This business, like anything, is about people,” he said, adding bluntly “I will never lie to you. I will never mislead you. But I will never give you false hopes.”
During his tour, Hagel saw the inside of a C-17 and also was briefed on various base operations, including the work of bomb disposal crews and the aeromedical units.
He also stopped by the C-17 engine test and repair center before holding the town hall meeting.