washingtonpost.com
Defense officials warn of crisis unless Congress approves 2011 funding bill

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 9:48 PM

While the Obama administration is set to release its 2012 budget request Monday, Congress still has not approved a final 2011 budget for the military. Now the Pentagon is warning that it faces a crisis situation.

For weeks, Defense Department officials have said that unless lawmakers pass the Obama administration's 2011 budget request, they will be unable to start new weapons programs and may have to limit training, maintenance and even personnel pay and other activities. Officials have also said that they will be forced to continue programs the Obama administration had sought to terminate, because the funding has not been formally cut off.

Some lawmakers have argued that, with the government facing record deficits and under growing pressure to find cuts, the Pentagon will simply have to tighten its belt. Already, the Defense Department has been forced to trim $78 billion over the next five years from its long-term spending plan.

The military is currently being funded through the most recent in a series of stopgap measures, known as continuing resolutions, that allow spending based on previously approved levels.

But the continuing resolution provided $23 billion below what the Obama administration had requested for 2011. Defense agencies and the military services have complicated the picture by spending close to the requested 2011 level, because they had expected Congress to approve their funding by Oct. 1, when fiscal 2011 began.

The continuing resolution is up for another vote by March 4.

Last week, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) urged that the Senate hold an immediate vote on the fiscal 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill, which has been approved by the House, rather than relying on another year-long continuing resolution at reduced funding levels.

As an alternative, Collins suggested in an interview that the fiscal 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill be attached to any new continuing resolution, as had been done in past years. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made the same suggestion last month.

On Friday, the House took a step in that direction when Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, proposed a continuing resolution that included the 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill.

Although the bill is $14 billion below the Obama administration's request, if approved by Congress it would respond to almost all the concerns voiced by Gates and other Pentagon leaders. It would also eliminate about 1,400 earmarks totaling $4.2 billion that were attached to the fiscal 2010 defense funding bill.

Overall, Rogers said, it "strikes a balance between the need for valid reductions and the requirements of our military."

Still, there is no guarantee that the Senate will accept the new House version of the continuing resolution.

If the present continuing resolution were extended for the full year, there would be insufficient funding for the military's 1.4 percent pay raise approved in the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill already signed into law, according to Stephen Daggett, a Congressional Research Service specialist on the defense budget.

Nor would there be enough money to pay for required defense health-care costs that have increased over the amount allocated in 2010, Daggett said.

Collins and Nelson pointed out that without approval of the fiscal 2011 appropriations bill, upgrades for Army Special Forces helicopters and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft cannot take place. A second Virginia-class submarine and an additional destroyer cannot be started, increasing their eventual overall costs. Significant increased funding above the 2010 level for the Afghan and Iraq security forces will also be blocked. And new programs for military spouses and family support programs will not get started.

Last week, an unclassified Navy message sent to the fleet stated that because of fewer funds provided by the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution, the normal six-month notice given to sailors regarding their next post "will likely" be less than two months.

"We fully realize the impact of the uncertainty on our families," the message said. "Our current fiscal challenges will result in compressed permanent change of station timelines for most sailors with projected rotation dates during summer and fall 2011."

The chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughhead, said last week that he was canceling some planned ship maintenance "because I can't exceed the budget limits that have been placed on us because of the continuing resolution." In a speech to the American Society of Naval Engineers, he said, "We have to get out from underneath this in order to make the Navy the flexible force the nation expects."

Defense industry officials are concerned as well. On Feb. 3, the Aerospace Industry Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and seven other groups sent congressional leaders a letter saying, "A year-long CR would precipitate a series of costly schedule delays, production breaks and other acquisition inefficiencies that will not only increase out-year costs for required DOD programs, but could adversely affect our warfighters."

Post a Comment


Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company