Defense chief needs to lead

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is spending much of his time these days jetting around the country to spread his woe-is-us message to the Pentagon’s civilian workers.

Last week, in a speech to Defense Department employees in Charleston, S.C., Hagel predicted hundreds of thousands will remain on furlough for several months, with massive layoffs on the way.

Hagel blames spending cuts mandated through the “sequester” process.

At first glance, the reductions – averaging about $49 billion a year for the next decade – appear serious. But in the context of more than $700 billion a year in military spending, the question is whether Hagel and others in the Pentagon are taking effective action to deal with the cuts.

Members of Congress should be asking Hagel whether the Pentagon has re-examined its spending priorities, perhaps scrapping some pie-in-the-sky programs to protect essential spending.

We suspect the answer is “no.” Until that changes, Hagel should spend less time on the political trail and more in Washington.

A U.S. Department of Energy study concluding possibly hazardous chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” at gas and oil wells does not pollute groundwater is good news.

Actually, it is only common sense: Fracking occurs thousands of feet below aquifers. For chemicals to migrate that far up into groundwater would defy gravity.

Still, the DOE should continue to monitor drillers. As we have pointed out repeatedly, failures in well casings passing through the groundwater zone could result in pollution. While the danger is very slight, it is one against which state and federal agencies should guard.