By Walter Pincus
The Washington Post
The sequester may turn out to be a good thing, at least when it comes to some Pentagon programs.
It is forcing the military services to make hard choices they have avoided even thinking about while the money freely flowed to the Defense Department.
The United States was at war and whatever programs the services called necessary got funded, with few questions and little oversight. Pentagon spending on the Afghan and Iraq wars totaled about $1.3 trillion, while an additional $5.2 trillion paid for Defense's "base budget."
In 2001, the base budget was supposed to support two wars, but the George W. Bush White House set up supplemental appropriations for the fighting, a practice followed when President Barack Obama took office. Still, the base budget rose about $10 billion or more most years from 2002 to 2012.
Billions of dollars were wasted on unsuccessful procurement programs and other overruns for ships, aircraft and other weapons systems, and space vehicles. And some good programs were begun, costing tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars that produced marginal results or are now just unaffordable.
Military rethinking about some personnel and family-related programs came up Wednesday at a hearing before a House Armed Services sub-committee on military personnel. The topic: fiscal 2013 continuing resolution and sequestration.
Take the military services' program to offer tuition assistance to active service and National Guard personnel for courses during off-duty hours. On March 5, Defense Comptroller Robert Hale asked the services to "consider significant reductions in funding new tuition assistance applicants . . . for the duration of the current fiscal situation."
With more than $500 million a year, the Army, Air Force and Marines, plus the National Guard, pay tuition of up to $250 a semester hour, and up to $4,500 a year for an individual's off-duty studies. The Navy limit is $4,000.