Congress’ inability to pass a budget that fully funds the military caused the U.S. Navy to squander roughly $4 billion in taxpayer dollars over the past six years, Sec. Richard Spencer told the U.S. Naval Institute’s Defense Forum in Washington on Monday.
“Since 2011, we have put $4 billion in a trashcan, poured lighter fluid on top of it, and burned it,” said Spencer, noting, “It’s enough money that it can buy us the additional capacity and capability that we need. Instead, that $4 billion of taxpayer money has been lost because of inefficiencies [caused by] continuing resolutions.”
The Navy could have used those billions to purchase a squadron of F-35 fighter jets, two Arleigh-Burke-class destroyers, 3,000 harpoon missiles, or 2,000 tactical Tomahawk missiles. Instead, the money simply evaporated as a result of the start-and-stop costs associated with temporary funding in the form of continuing resolutions designed to avert government shutdowns.
The temporary budgets freeze defense funding, forcing the Defense Department to shuffle funds from modernization and hiring to support current missions, according to a report in The Washington Free Beacon.
Spencer said the Budget Control Act has been a major problem, calling it “the most harmful impediment” to rebuilding service readiness and achieving modernization, as he urged lawmakers to “address this as soon as possible.”
The Senate, in November, passed a $700 billion defense policy bill in line with the Trump administration’s calls for a larger military, but it exceeds federal spending caps by roughly $85 billion, meaning the funding may never be realized.
With a Friday deadline looming, Republicans are moving to pass another short-term resolution to avoid a government shutdown and buy more time to negotiate a long-term spending package.
Senate Democrats have vowed to block major increases to defense spending unless Republicans approve equal increases to nondefense programs, so a battle will likely ensue.
Spencer is not the only one pointing out that stopgap resolutions and budget constraints are money pits. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has pointed out that continuing resolutions introduce uncertainty into the budget, and the negative fiscal impacts of continuing resolutions take effect immediately when training and maintenance have to be scaled back because of the limited available funds.
David Norquist, the Pentagon’s comptroller, stated in September that readiness costs are “unrecoverable” under a continuing resolution. “Under a CR, readiness and operational costs are unrecoverable,” Norquist said. “The longer a CR lasts, the more damage.”
“Funding issues born of the Budget Control Act and continuing resolutions have taken a toll on readiness, maintenance sites, and have also cost us time and resources that we cannot buy back,” Spencer warned. “Urgency is the battle cry.”
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