(CNN) – Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday his "biggest concern" right now is the uncertainty over budget issues on Capitol Hill.
"If the sequester is allowed to go into effect, I think it could seriously impact on the readiness in the United States," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "And that's a serious issue."
The U.S. military could face the start of $500 billion in budget cuts in about a month if Congress fails to come up with a budget plan that avoids the so-called sequester, a serious of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts spread out over the next decade.
The sequester was originally set to kick in at the beginning of 2013, but a scaled-back fiscal cliff deal managed to postpone the cuts from triggering until a couple of months down the road.
"We have the strongest military power on earth. But we - and we're dealing with a lot of threats in today's world," Panetta said.
Lawmakers who opposed the sequester frequently pointed to Panetta's opposition to it. He has previously said the cuts could be "devastating" to the military and represent a "meat ax" approach to budget-cutting.
Panetta in January ordered the military to begin implementing cost-cutting measures aimed at mitigating the effects of significant budget cuts that would occur if Congress fails to reach a deal in coming months to avert or soften them.
Military departments were told to report on how they would implement the deep automatic spending cuts of the sequester and enforce unpaid leave for civilian employees should the reductions occur.
"I couldn't agree more. We face a true readiness crisis," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added.
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