Continuing resolutions temporarily evade shutdowns, but they may also hurt the Department of Defense’s readiness long-term.
Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he believes that uncertainty in the budget for DoD and multiple delays under the continuing resolution will put the Pentagon in a precarious position: When an official budget is finally agreed upon, DoD may not have enough time to spend the money and may not be able to execute programs they had planned.
“You eventually get so late in the fiscal year, you can’t do all the training you planned to do, then that can negatively impact readiness. Also, the maintenance, especially in our ship programs — you know, we have a limited number of slots in our depots for doing ship overhauls and repairs,” he said. “[The delays can mean] maintenance problems in the fleet and readiness problems for the Navy.”
DoD also may be affected financially under the continuing resolution.
“If you go too far into the fiscal year, you won’t be able to do all the things that you had already delayed that year,” Harrison said. “You’ll have to push them into the next year and that will go into the fiscal 2019 budget.”
As far as acquisition programs the military is focused on that may be affected by the CR, Harrison said the Air Force’s F-35, KC-46 and B-21, which sit in limbo under the current CR situation.
In the F-35 program, “Congress wanted to add even more planes than the military requested,” Harrison said, but it’s on hold until an official budget plan is agreed upon.
The aerial refueling tanker, KC-46, “is a great contract for Air Force,” Harrison said. But, he added, if the Air Force can’t provide the money this year, then they may be forced to renegotiate with Boeing.
And the new bomber, the B-21 program, hoped to ramp up funding as it just picked up, but “that can’t happen under a CR,” he said.
Harrison said Congress likely will have a hard time coming together on a final budget for DoD. The current budget cap for DoD is set at $549 billion, but President Donald Trump has requested $603 billion, while Congress has pushed for even more, he said.
“What they need is a budget deal that raises the cap,” Harrison added.
Otherwise, if Congress extends the CR, then DoD’s readiness is negatively impacted.
“If you look back at this past fiscal year — FY 17 — we had the longest continuing resolution: seven months … It was very disruptive,” Harrison said. “It looks like we could be on the road to do something similar this year. We are already three and a half months into the fiscal year now. If they extend it into February, then we’re looking at four, four and half, maybe even five months that we’ll be under a continuing resolution this year.”
The burn rate for federal spending could push the government into sequestration anyway, but Harrison doesn’t think that will happen.
“The CR they passed so far this year — the three CRs that have already been passed — they included a provision in there with a tiny percentage reduction to keep it below the budget caps, so it wouldn’t trigger a sequester. Presumably, if they pass another continuing resolution, they will do the same thing,” he said. “So I don’t think that that will become an issue.”
In any case, the point isn’t each of the listed problems that may occur in the near future. To Harrison, the big point is that the uncertainty in the budget plan simply “drives inefficiency in the system.”