The Pentagon did an about-face on sequestration this week, taking concrete steps — including a hiring freeze and a delay in awarding some contract awards — more than six weeks before the across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to hit.

The moves announced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were a significant shift for the Defense Department compared to the approach ahead of the initial Jan. 2 sequestration deadline, when Pentagon officials did not officially start planning for the cuts until December.

The “fiscal cliff” deal passed by Congress provided the Pentagon a two-month reprieve with a March 1 deadline, but the defense budget could still see a $45 billion reduction in 2013 that would have to be implemented over just seven months.