Amid shutdown fears, Air Force expresses concerns over yet another CR

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As Congress looks to pass another stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown Friday, the Air Force, fearing more continuing resolutions as the new normal, is planning a top-to-bottom review of its programs to free up room in its operating budget.

Under its “zero-based review,” Air Force Under Secretary Matthew Donovan said the Air Force would, for the first time in over 20 years, take a look at its programs, budget lines and manpower authorizations to determine where it could trim funding. The review, which began last week, will continue until March 15.

“The idea here is to get after the relevancy of what we’re doing. And we’ll look at each and every program or requirement to see if it’s increasing our lethality … and ensure we’re getting the best use of every taxpayer dollar. Everything we do will be on the table during this review, and programs will have to fight their way back into the budget,” Donovan said Thursday at an Air Force Association event at the Capitol Hill Club.

While other military services have already expressed concerns over another stopgap funding bill’s impact on readiness, Donovan said passage of another short-term CR could increase the chances of a full-year continuing resolution for the rest of fiscal 2018.

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“What we’re really concerned about is, the further along you go into the fiscal year with these short-term CRs, the more likely a full-year CR becomes, and that’s not a good thing for us. It will have damaging impacts on readiness and modernization,” Donovan said.

While lawmakers continue to press for another short-term CR, the undersecretary said the zero-based review could eliminate or reduce unnecessary programs.

“The result of this is to actually come in and look at programs that are maybe no longer need to be funded and to also identify areas where we can take more risk, and actually come out with that prioritization that’s so important when you’re talking about implementing a strategy,” Donovan said.

In a Thursday speech on military readiness, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the Air Force has reached the smallest point in its history, and that the average age of their aircraft is 27 years.

“We have simply pushed our military past the breaking point. Instead of upgrading our hardware, we have let our equipment age. Instead of equipping our troops for tomorrow’s fight,  we’ve let them become woefully underequipped,” Ryan said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, D.C.

While Ryan has urged House lawmakers to pass another short-term CR Friday to avoid shutting down the government, he said Congress has delayed passing a comprehensive FY 2018 budget for too long.

“The Pentagon cannot plan for the future if it keeps operating under these short-term spending bills. The days of budget uncertainty and underfunding need to come to an end,” he said.

Before a visit to the Pentagon on Thursday, President Donald Trump spoke with reporters about his concerns about the military amid the looming threat of a shutdown.

“Our military has to be the best in the world by far, and as you know, it’s been depleted,” Trump said. “We need this now almost more than any time in the past.”

In the event Congress fails to average a shutdown, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) has introduced a bill that would guarantee military pay in the event of a shutdown. However, Donovan said the introduction could make averting a government shutdown less of a concern for lawmakers.

“That’s not a good sign. In some ways, it almost makes it easier, because it takes that argument away,” he said.

Congress has until midnight Friday, Jan. 19 to pass another continuing resolution before triggering a government shutdown.