First posted March 28, 2017, 3:18 p.m. on CQ.com.
If Washington fails to send the Pentagon a new spending bill for the rest of this fiscal year, the U.S. military will take a major hit, according to new Defense Department reports to Congress obtained by CQ Roll Call.
The consequences for the U.S. military of subsisting on a continuing resolution range from the mammoth to the mundane, and the net effect is near- and long-term damage to everything from recruitment to weapons contracts, according to the Navy, Army and Air Force information papers sent to Capitol Hill within the last week.
If the CR were to be extended through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2017, then the military services would have to ground large portions of their aircraft squadrons, halt most training exercises, stop paying bonuses, freeze hiring of new military personnel and hold off on modernizing numerous new weapons, according to the documents.
The armed forces would also have to stop fixing tornado damage to a Marine Corps facility in Albany, New York. They would have to cancel Blue Angels flyovers. And they would force thousands of military families to wait to move to their next post until after the start of fiscal 2018 on Oct. 1 (at the earliest) — meaning children in those families would have to change schools after the new school year has already begun.
The documents are the military services’ replies to a request for information from the House Armed Services Committee. The reports are expected to become a staple during next month’s spending debates in Congress, as defense hawks will seize on them to dramatize the need for a new Pentagon spending bill.
The services’ top officers will present the findings publicly to the House Armed Services Committee on April 5.
Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, the panel’s chairman, had briefly referenced separate letters from the services on the issue at a March 22 press breakfast. But the new documents themselves have not previously been made public.
Under a full-year CR, “all but one deploying Army unit will cease training after July 15, and that includes units scheduled to deploy to Korea and Europe,” Thornberry told reporters. “The Marine Corps will cease all flight operations in July and have to get rid of over 2,000 Marines. … This is lives and death and real consequences.”
High odds for CR
The speculation about the effects of a yearlong CR is not idle chatter. The current CR expires on April 28, seven months into fiscal 2017. It must be replaced with another spending bill or the federal government will mostly shut down.
The House passed earlier this month a final Defense spending bill for fiscal 2017, but the Senate has yet to vote on it. Congress’ task ahead comprises moving all the federal nondefense bills, probably combining them with the Defense measure, and avoiding poison-pill policy riders — and doing it all in the few short days left to legislate in April, with a crowded Senate calendar.
Many experts believe enactment of another CR — for at least a little while, if not the remainder of the fiscal year — is likely. Adam Smith of Washington, top Democrat on House Armed Services, said in a March 26 C-SPAN interview that the odds of new spending legislation clearing by April 28 are “remote.”
The possible CR extension to come is “a terrible way to run a government,” Smith said, adding that it “jeopardizes national security and internal security.”
All the federal departments, not just the Pentagon, will be adversely affected if the CR is extended. Unless exceptions are expressly enacted, CRs do not permit new programs to start and require funding to remain at the prior year’s level for every program, even if there is an imperative to increase spending on it, decrease it or eliminate it.
A yearlong CR in fiscal 2017 would be a first for the U.S. military. And for the Pentagon, a CR poses unique challenges.
For one, while Washington enacted in December a fiscal 2017 defense authorization act that requires increases in manpower in the services and bigger paychecks for military personnel, the roughly $2 billion needed to pay for those things is not in the current CR. And it will not be in the next one without an anomaly written to cover it.
Unless the problem is fixed, under a new CR, the armed forces would have to redirect money in their budgets to pay for those mandatory personnel bills.
Another major problem is that the services had planned to start spending more money in fiscal 2017 than in the year before on operating and maintaining equipment and facilities — spending that is critical to readiness — but they wouldn’t be able to do that under a yearlong CR.
In response to the shortfalls, the services will have to frantically move money around, they say.
The Army, in a two-page March 24 fact sheet, said it would have to go without fully $3 billion in planned increases to operations and maintenance accounts and, as a result, “current readiness would be severely impacted.”
The Army added that it would have to cancel a major training exercise at Fort Irwin in California and three exercises planned with allies in Europe, even as countries there are increasingly nervous about Russia’s intentions and capabilities.
As many as 47 new research and procurement programs could not get underway, and 84 planned hikes in production rates would have to wait, the Army said. Affected initiatives include everything from ammunition to radars.
The Air Force, in a five-page document dated March 22, told Congress it will have to “absorb” $2.8 billion in the last five months of the fiscal year.
As a result, flight training outside combat zones would be “drastically reduced,” the service said.
The Air Force would also would be unable to increase its active ranks from 319,000 to 321,000 — the “#1 readiness priority” — and that will hurt efforts to address a dire pilot shortage and recruit more drone operators, cybersecurity experts and others, the service’s document said.
What’s more, the Air Force authors wrote, five “critical” nuclear modernization programs could be delayed, and more than 60 new acquisitions would not start as planned, including procurements of updated Reaper drones, midair refueling tankers, rockets, smart bombs and more.
All Air Force bonuses would be deferred and 13,000 job moves put on hold. Airmen and their families will view the budget actions as “breaking faith,” and this could spell trouble for recruiting and retention later, the Air Force document warned.
A yearlong CR “limits our ability to rebuild the Air Force and continues the trend of the Air Force being the smallest, oldest and least ready in history,” the document bluntly stated.
Navy and Marine Corps
The Navy and Marine Corps, too, would have to take “significant action,” according to a two-page, March 23 “information paper.”
The Navy would have to cancel three ship deployments, causing “gaps in European and Central Commands,” and the service will have to “shut down four of nine non-deployed carrier air wings,” the paper said.
Navy officials would have to reduce flight training, and as a result, “squadrons will be undermanned 20-30 percent.”
And they would have to “stop bonus payments on most critical skills, impacting retention of experienced and specialized sailors.”
Ship maintenance would be put off, causing delays in deployments. And “due to depot maintenance and parts funding shortfalls, only one-third of all aircraft will remain fully mission capable for the remainder of FY17, and will take months to recover,” they wrote.
The Marine Corps, meanwhile, would “cease flight operations for all squadrons who are not deployed or next to deploy,” the document said. “This will significantly worsen aviation readiness shortfalls.”
And a CR could force a 78 percent cut in inventories of one particular type of rocket launcher, a reduction that “runs the risk of mission critical munition shortfalls for contingency operations.”