A defense budget analyst with a prominent Washington think tank said the U.S. defense budget proposal for 2015 is too small to execute the declared U.S. defense strategy.
Todd Harrison, senior fellow for Defense Budget Studies with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), speaking to reporters Sept. 4, said there is a $200 billion to $300 billion resource/strategy mismatch in the 2015 Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) over the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The 2015 budget request, at $560.4 billion, is approximately $116 billion greater than allowed under the BCA caps.
That $116 billion figure could change in either direction, depending on the success of the department’s proposed military compensation reform, efficiency savings, and control of acquisition, operations and maintenance budget growth.
Congress has to date taken no action to lift the budget caps on the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years imposed by the BCA, a law that was designed to trigger almost a trillion-dollar reduction in the defense budget over 10 years. Some relief was granted for 2013 and 2014, which raised the caps for those years, but the caps could severely constrain the 2015 and 2016 budgets.
Harrison said the Defense Department “needs to present a stark choice to Congress: lift the budget caps or manage within the budget caps.”
He said the options available to Congress include relief from the BCA caps or reducing the scope of U.S. strategic commitments to “something we could afford,” such as shedding priorities. He stressed that he did not necessarily endorse the latter option.
Harrison said the Defense Department lives “in a zero-sum budget environment” and that “it’s going to be hard for the defense budget to increase.”
Harrison said procurement is at greatest risk in coming years, pointing out a “bow wave” that will hit in the 2020s as older Cold War-era platforms and systems are retired and need to be replaced. An example he cited is the Ohio Replacement ballistic-missile submarine, needed to replace the Ohio-class submarines as the most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear deterrent triad. He said the Defense Department will have to fund the program by “robbing” other Navy programs or other service’s budgets.
“One way or another we are going to fund that program,” he said.
Harrison said procurement programs typically run encounter cost overruns of 20 to 50 percent, a factor that never is accounted for in budget submissions. He predicted the Ohio Replacement program will experience a cost growth of 20 percent or more.
He criticized the circular logic of military’s readiness metrics, saying that “the readiness measures don’t tell us much about actual readiness” and that “the readiness situation is much worse that most people think.”
Harrison predicted that Congress will pass, without much controversy, a continuing resolution to initially fund the new fiscal year’s programs, a situation he described as the “new normal.”