U.S. Navy/ Chris Thamann
Inside the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill is a defense appropriations bill for 2014. While it blunts the impact of full sequestration by providing extra cash for the Pentagon, it essentially keeps military spending flat from the previous year.
Given that President Obama’s budget request for 2014 ignored sequestration, Congress is in the driver’s seat. Appropriators have made the decisions about where the roughly $30 billion in defense rescissions should occur. While the services all weighed in, it should be clear to Pentagon leaders now that submitting a budget that opposed reality was simply not smart.
Highlights from the defense bill include:
- Overturning the Navy’s plans for the early retirement of nine ships, including 7 cruisers;
- Forcing the Air Force to retain Global Hawk block 30 drones;
- Requiring a report on NSA phone records and any terrorist activity that was disrupted as a result;
- Providing additional funds for the expansion of a Special Victims’ Counsel program for sexual assault victims across the Department; and,
- Directing the Secretary of Defense to essentially avoid furloughing civilians at all costs in the coming year regardless of the budget squeeze.
While Navy procurement spending is essentially static from last year, Congress added over $1 billion in new shipbuilding money. The biggest beneficiary as a result is the Virginia-class submarine program. Congress also approved advanced funding for 22 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for the Navy while cutting the EA-18G Growler program, the UH-1Y helicopter, the P-8A Poseidon, and the KC-130J tanker aircraft among others. Appropriators plussed up the Navy’s EP-3 spy aircraft program, along with the Navy’s “special project” aircraft program. Members are worried Navy leaders will seek to retire destroyers early as it has proposed with Ticonderoga-class cruisers and directs the Navy to modernize older Arleigh Burkes first.
Aircraft spending across the services is down. The Air Force is absorbing another large reduction to its procurement account. Congress cut over half a billion in Joint Strike Fighter program funding, including for the Marine Corps’ STOVL variant. The Air Force is directed to purchase an additional eight MQ-9 Reaper drones above the President’s request for 12. Funding for modernization of the bomber fleet, F-22s, C-17s and C-5s are all down slightly. The C-130 program will grow significantly above the President’s request in 2014 for engine and propeller upgrades.
Finally, Congress rescinded $2 billion in unused prior-year funding. This has been a favorite pot of money for Pentagon leaders to draw upon in order to blunt the impact of defense budget cuts on equipment in particular over the past year.
Full sequestration was avoided, and Pentagon leaders say they intend to spend the money that was given back in the next budget year of 2015 on readiness. But even that will not be spared entirely given that the Defense Department is still seeing funding far below what its leaders would have preferred.
Investment in the future continues to take a disproportionate hit as part of the defense build-down. Since the 2015 budget request will be delayed about a month, this should give officials plenty of time to revisit current plans. Congress should hope Pentagon leaders seek to double down on efforts to tackle the Department of Defense’s so-called “Fourth Estate,” the size of the civilian workforce, compensation reform and need to shed excess infrastructure so as to avoid even more reductions to long overdue modernization plans of all the Armed Forces.
Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies.