Rolling over the current Air Force budget for another year, a practice known as a Continuing Resolution, or CR, “would stall much of the progress we are making towards today’s readiness and tomorrow’s modernization,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., told the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Yet Brown, who appeared at the hearing alongside Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, said damage from imposing the same budget and its terms for another full year would cut even deeper.
“As much as a year-long Continuing Resolution affects our Air Force fiscally, the impact it has to our rate of change is more shattering,” he said in prepared remarks to the subcommittee. “All the money in the world cannot buy more time; time is irrecoverable, and when you are working to keep pace against well-resourced and focused competitors, time matters.”
Raymond offered a similar assessment.
“Under a yearlong CR, the Space Force would see impacts across our efforts to modernize our capabilities,” Raymond said, noting that “the largest impact” would be on the National Security Space Launch Program by cutting the number of launches from five to three.
“A yearlong CR would delay these [two] launches by one year, slowing our ability to place previously acquired systems on orbit, as well as deferring our ability to realize the benefit and cost-savings of NSSL Phase 2 launch services agreements,” Raymond said.
Renewing current spending for another year would also “affect resilient missile warning and missile tracking; space domain awareness to enable effective protect-and-defend architecture; protected satellite communications; and positioning, navigation, and timing systems that meet Joint warfighter needs in contested environments,” he said.
Michael McCord, the Defense Department’s comptroller and Chief Financial Officer, told lawmakers that a full year CR “would move us in the wrong direction and leave us stuck in the wrong place on multiple fronts.”
There was uniform agreement on that point on the subcommittee. Rep. Rosa DaLauro, who chairs the full Appropriations Committee, said in her opening remarks, “The consequences of a full year CR are unthinkable.”
Likewise, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Ken Calvert of California, said a yearlong CR would trigger “self-inflicted wounds that are difficult to recover from.”
In dollar terms, extending the current budget for fiscal 2021 for another full year would cut the total Department of Defense budget by $8 billion, McCord said.
But he added, the real cut would be considerably larger because of vagaries associated with federal budgets by a factor of two or three. The reason, he said, is because of limits on the way existing funds can be spent and the difficulty of “reprogramming” money from one use to another.
For example, even if enough money were available in the CR, upgrades to base facilities such as dormitories and schools and similar projects would not be allowed because those programs would be considered “new starts” in budget terms. With very few exceptions, a CR allows spending only on existing projects and programs.
“The most damaging impacts would be to those who deserve it least – our service members and their families. The biggest holes would be in our military personnel accounts and our training and readiness accounts,” McCord said.
A Continuing Resolution could also result in a bewildering checkerboard of programs. “Some, such as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, would be cut substantially below requested and required levels, while others, such as the procurement of two Virginia-class submarines, would be relatively unaffected,” he said.
It’s not a small distinction.
The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, is a high priority update of the nation’s aging land-based nuclear deterrent. Brown said a full-year CR would reduce Air Force “purchasing power” by $3.5 billion and affect not only GBSD but the further development of the new B-21 long-range bomber, the KC-46 tanker, F-35 fifth-generation fighter and even older aircraft such as the F-16 and C-130.
“A year-long Continuing Resolution would halt the modernization of the nuclear enterprise and impact our deterrence posture,” Brown said. “Specifically, operational capability of Ground Based Strategic Deterrent would be delayed. Procurement of our two hypersonic weapons would be prevented.
“I would like to point out that our pacing challenges have either modernized their nuclear enterprise and/or are fielding hypersonic systems,” he said, referring to China and Russia.
In past years, CRs were seldom used. Today, however, they are used more routinely to keep the federal government open and operating when a new fiscal year begins before that year’s budget is completed. Under a normal schedule, Congress early in each calendar year begins considering operating budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. If they are unable to finish work before that date, Congress adopts short-term CR’s to provide more time and prevent the government from shutting down. While fiscal year 2022 began Oct. 1, CR’s have been used again. The current one expires Feb. 18.
Wednesday’s hearing was called to examine the consequences of extending the current CR until Sept. 30, 2022 when the current fiscal year ends instead of approving a new, tailored spending plan for the remainder of fiscal 2022 that more closely matches the Department of Defense’s needs.
Also testifying were Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger; Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael M. Gilday; and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph M. Martin.
While short-term CRs have been used in the past, there never has been a full-year CR for the Department of Defense.
“A yearlong continuing resolution would seriously compromise the Space Force’s ability to enhance unity of effort and efficiency; generate mission ready forces; and deliver the resilient architectures we need in the space domain,” Raymond said.
Both Brown and Raymond noted that a yearlong CR would affect everything from recruiting to training, health care, adapting to climate change and other programs.
Like Raymond, Brown itemized “four areas of modernization” that would suffer unless a new spending plan was adopted for the remainder of the current fiscal years. Those four areas are the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise, upgrading weapons, air dominance platforms, and improving the service’s “Enterprise Information Technology structure.”
At the same time, “our competitor’s rate of change is enabling them to approach parity with many of our warfighting capabilities and concepts,” he said.
Taken together, Brown said, an old budget would not sufficiently meet current needs, “impeding the Air Force’s acceleration towards the force of tomorrow.”