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Defense Budget Woes Leave Few Good Options Left, Experts Say

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Photo: defense.gov

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has let his voice be heard: Congress’ lollygagging on passing a defense appropriations bill and the threat of a fiscal-year-long continuing resolution is the “crisis on my doorstep,” he said last week.

Now, defense analysts are chiming in with their concerns.

A senior Navy official told Defense News the lack of an official budget is “not a good situation to be in. It forces you into stupid management decisions.”

Aside from actually passing a proper defense appropriations bill, which might be very difficult if not politically untenable, would be for Congress to extend the continuing resolution to cover the rest of the fiscal year.

But, Gates is not a fan.

Extending the CR would possibly carry disastrous implications. “That’s how you hollow out a military even in wartime,” he told reporters Jan. 26. A continuing resolution would set DoD funding at $23 billion less than the department’s topline requests. It also could spell the end of 7,300 civilian jobs, Defense News reported, as contract spending dries up because of the lack of funds.

The continuing resolution’s inconveniences run both ways. Because the funding is set at previous year’s levels, that means agencies are sometimes not allocated enough funding for new projects. But, it also means departments could be flush with cash for programs they don’t want or need any longer.

While DoD has some authority to shift funding around, known as general transfer authority, that is not a long-term solution, because the amount of money DoD is allowed to play with, so to speak, is capped at a certain level, Defense News reports.

But, Gordon Adams, a Clinton administration budget official, said as long as DoD is given further general transfer authority, extending the CR would not be such a bad thing, and might even force the Pentagon into making tough choices that, in the long run, improve the department.

The strong feelings about defense appropriations are not confined to those within the federal space.

CEO of government-contracting giant Lockheed Martin Bob Stevens, along with 13 other defense industry CEOs, sent a letter to congressional leaders urging they pass an omnibus defense and national security spending bill.

“Without appropriate full-year funding decisions on national security programs, we will face costly schedule delays and breaks in production that will increase overall program costs and interrupt the delivery of critical equipment to war fighters,” Stevens said.

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