Navy says it’s wasted $4 billion on continuing resolutions since 2011

Congress’ seemingly unbreakable habit of running the government via a series of continuing resolutions, rather than full-year appropriations bills, has caused the U.S. Navy to waste $4 billion since 2011, officials said Monday.

Service leaders disclosed the estimate just four days before the expiration of the current continuing resolution, expressing a degree of exasperation that it remains unclear exactly how — or if — the government will be funded for the remainder of 2018. They argued that as much as the sea service believes it needs additional funding in order to carry out the full scope of its missions, receiving what funds it does get in a stable, predictable way is even more crucial.

“We have put $4 billion in a trash can, poured lighter fluid on it, and burned it,” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said in remarks at a U.S. Naval Institute forum in Washington. “Four billion is enough to buy a squadron of F-35s, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 3,000 Harpoon missiles. It’s enough money to buy us additional capacity that we need.  Instead, it’s lost, because of inefficacy in the ways of the continuing resolution.”

Although the Defense Department has faced fewer continuing resolutions than domestic agencies have in recent decades, it has still spent at least part of each of the past 10 years under a CR. Because of that, Navy managers have become somewhat adept at navigating their way through the stopgap funding measures.

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But Adm. Bill Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, said they are still “painful,” since they prohibit new-start acquisition programs and leave money in the wrong accounts, causing a cascading series of problems, including deferred maintenance. He said unstable and insufficient budgets were at least partly to blame for the service’s deadly series of at-sea mishaps earlier this year.

“For the past several years, too many of our ships, submarines and aircraft have been parked due to maintenance delays and throughput capacity. We were not resourced to make whole what we already owned; we were not giving our warfighters the time and tools to build capability through their own experiences,” he said. “We were making tough choices — often bad choices — between operations, readiness and growing the force. These issues and others contributed to the collisions because we took our eye off the ball. We were executing a full-court press when we didn’t have a sufficient bench to play the entire game.”

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders are set to meet on Thursday to discuss funding the government for the remainder of fiscal 2018, just a day before the current continuing resolution is set to expire. For now, the objective is to avoid a government shutdown. Republican leaders want to pass a two-week continuing resolution in order to allow more time for broader budget talks, but will need Democratic votes to do so, since at least 30 House Republicans have indicated they will not vote for a short-term CR.

But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) insisted his caucus was committed to making this the last in the endless saga of part-year funding measures.

“The only reason we’re going into a two-week CR is because we’re in negotiations on the budget caps,” he said Saturday at the annual Reagan Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California. “It will let us get to a cap agreement that would allow us to finish out appropriations. And let me give you one other difference: We did all 12 appropriations bills this year in the House. Want to know the last time a Republican majority did that? The iPhone wasn’t invented yet. We have produced more bills than any other Congress in modern history, so we’re changing the structure, but you won’t see the light for a little while. If we’re able to get an agreement not only for this year, but next year as well, we’ll get out of this mess once and for all and be able to make the decisions much more on policy than on politics.”

Without an agreement to adjust the 2018 caps prescribed by the Budget Control Act, defense spending in DoD’s base budget would be limited to $549 billion for the full year, $54 billion less than the administration requested, and dramatically less than the $626 billion both the House and Senate approved last month as part of this year’s defense authorization bill.

Operationally, a return to spending constrained by the lower BCA caps would resemble the cuts each of the military services endured in 2013, when sequestration first sliced spending from each of DoD’s accounts, said Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff.

“We actually haven’t completely recovered from the last sequester, when we were required to find $10 billion in a single year,” he said. “When you’re required to find $10 billion in a single year, you stop flying all squadrons who are not either preparing for or executing combat operations. You cease all civilian hiring, and the civilian workforce in our depots are magicians. When you cease civilian hiring, you don’t cease civilian retiring, you just lose the workforce. If we don’t get past sequester in its current form, we will have to find $15 billion in a single year. We sometimes talk about no-fly zones. If you want to see a no-fly zone, go find any base that’s not either preparing for or executing combat operations. You will see no more flying.”

Beyond the constraints of the budget caps, Goldfein said the long pattern of continuing resolutions has been damaging to each of the military services, and to the defense industry.

Let’s be clear-eyed about how it affects me as a service chief when I have to go to Northrop Grumman and say, ‘I don’t know how many munitions I’m going to buy next year or the next year, but would you please keep your very sophisticated workforce with all of their security clearances engaged? And oh, by the way, I’m not going to be able to bring you the money until the last half of every year.’ That’s a real concern for me.”