In budget talks, DoD ‘not the holdup’

Jared Serbu, Reporter, Federal News Radio

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By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

The ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday that he and the committee chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Ca.), were determined to pass a 2011 Defense budget that would bring at least DoD out of continuing resolution mode — even if the rest of the government has to continue to operate under a continuing resolution.

“Mr. McKeon and I are in total agreement that we have to continue to work hard to try to find a way to get a Defense appropriations bill passed this year,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wa.). “Defense is not the holdup. There’s quite a bit of agreement in the House and the Senate. The question is the CR that it’s attached to, and how that’s going to work. That will continue to be a significant challenge.”

The GOP budget that passed the House two weeks ago included two sections. One was a modified continuing resolution that would fund most of the government for the remainder of 2011. The other was a full appropriations act for the DoD, funding the military at the level of $533 billion for fiscal year 2011.

That is less than the $540 billion that Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said was the bare minimum that DoD needed in its base budget to complete its missions in 2011, but more than the $526 billion in spending permitted under the continuing resolution now in effect.

The figures do not include separate overseas contingency operations funding designated to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We need a budget, and I’m pleased that the House chose to put a Defense appropriations budget on top of the CR, even if I wasn’t pleased with the four-day, 125-vote approach to how we passed that CR. It is good that there’s now a Defense appropriations bill out there,” Smith said.

Michael McCord, DoD’s deputy comptroller said DoD felt the House-passed funding level was too low, but that the appropriations bill would be preferable to operating under a continuing resolution for the duration of 2011. The lower funding level is not the only problem with the CR, he said. Locking the department into 2010 funding for specific programs was preventing the department from carrying out important plans, even if it had adequate funding to carry them out, he said.

“We don’t have the ability to do new starts, which affects a great deal of our procurement program,” he said. “We also can’t increase rates of production, so if we bought 100 of something last year we can’t buy 110 this year even if we need to. We could buy 100 of something that we were budgeted for last year that we have no need for this year — we wouldn’t, but we could. But that’s just an example of how formulaic things don’t really work for an enterprise as large and complicated as ours.”

McCord and Smith both spoke at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense programs conference for investors in Virginia on Tuesday.

McCord said virtually all of DoD’s military construction program has been halted by the constraints of a continuing resolution.

“By definition, you don’t build the same buildings you built last year, you build new buildings,” he said. “So technically, virtually everything we’re doing for our troops and their families is a new start that’s not allowed. There are quite a few projects that we would have awarded by now—I think we’re up to about 75 by my last count—that have now missed their projected award dates because we don’t have the legal authority to proceed with the construction program. These are maintenance shops, dormitories, all kinds of things across the country that we’re not doing because we can’t.”

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