Budget Sequestration: Our Military Priorities

Do you remember the specter of the Great Sequestration of 2013?

It dominated the news headlines just a few weeks ago. The federal government of the United States was preparing to slash its short term discretionary spending budgets in an indiscriminate manner, an action that was necessitated by Washington’s inability to agree on a long term plan to reduce its budget deficit.

So … how did sequestration turn out? Well, at first glance, nobody seemed to have noticed it. Despite dire warnings of a steep slow-down of the national air traffic system, for instance, the industry appears to have adapted to the budget cuts in a “business as usual” manner.

But as time rolls along, the true costs of the sequestration process are becoming more apparent. For example, you’ll undoubtedly notice it if you decide to visit New York City next month.

Farewell, Fleet Week

Each spring, the Big Apple kicks off its warm weather tourist season with a celebration of the United States Navy. Fleet Week brings naval vessels up the Atlantic Coast, from bases like Norfolk, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina, to spend several days in New York Harbor and on the Hudson and East Rivers. The sailors throw open their decks to the general public and join a series of festivals and special events.

Fleet Week was originally inspired by Operation Sail, a quasi-governmental organization founded by President John F. Kennedy to sponsor such events throughout the United States. Although the initial OpSail event in New York City was staged in connection with the 1964 World’s Fair, the most memorable one featured a Parade of Tall Ships that helped the metropolis celebrate the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976.

That was a year when America was still reeling from its defeat in the Vietnam conflict, the resignation of the disgraced President Richard Nixon, and the social, economic, and military challenges of the Cold War. The Big Apple itself was sliding into a severe financial and social crisis. Both the nation and the city desperately needed a shot of inspiration, and the OpSail event provided it with aplomb.

The recent Fleet Week versions of that historical OpSail event have attracted both military enthusiasts and casual tourists to the Big Apple from the four corners of the world. They’ve showcased America’s military forces in the best possible light, and have provided thousands of American sailors with the most enjoyable shore leave experiences imaginable.

Last week, though, the Navy announced that sequestration budget reductions will preclude it from joining the festival next month. Regrettably, that leaves the Big Apple with a Fleet Week in desperate need of a fleet.

Goodbye To The Blind

The recent Fleet Week announcement was a high profile one; it attracted the attention of commentators around the world. But the sequestration budget reductions are beginning to affect numerous low profile organizations as well.

How low profile? Consider, for the instance, the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Greensboro Industries for the Blind. The organizations employ a few dozen blind citizens — individuals who would find it difficult to remain employed in the mainstream work force — to manufacture supplies for federal governmental agencies.

Because of cutbacks in a Depression era government program that is now called AbilityOne, federal government officials have decided that they can no longer easily afford to purchase such supplies from local organizations that hire disabled workers. As a result, last week, the CABVI announced the prospective layoff of a few dozen employees who produce tape products for the federal government, following a similar announcement by the Greensboro organization about the loss of a military contract.

Shall we take a broad perspective to help us assess this situation? On the one hand, the United States Department of Defense is pouring resources into locales from Syria to South Korea to achieve its global priorities. Yet, on the other hand, it cannot afford to visit New York City in order to attend a party that is being staged in its honor. Likewise, it is unable to honor supply contracts with nonprofit associations that employ disabled American citizens.

American Priorities

Of course, there are many valid reasons for respecting such priorities at the Department of Defense. Our country undoubtedly continues to hold strategic interests in regions like the Middle East and the Pacific Rim; our military forces clearly help us protect these interests.

And our domestic organizations are proving to be managed by resilient and resourceful executives. Fleet Week organizers are already investigating the possibility of inviting local Coast Guard craft to help fill their naval void. And the president of the Greensboro organization is pursuing a T-Shirt supply contract with the military to replace the lost tape supply contract.

In other words, American citizens and organizations are continuing to devise creative ad hoc approaches to adapt to the Great Sequestration of 2013. Nevertheless, the outcomes of the sequestration process are revealing important truths about the priorities of the American people.