DoD gets nearly $655 billion and some flexibility on funding in omnibus bill

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Congress is expected to vote on a nearly $655 billion defense budget by Friday as part of a larger omnibus bill to fund the government through the rest of the year.

The bill, if passed, averts another government shutdown and gives military service members their biggest pay raise since 2010 with a 2.4 percent bump.

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Troops already saw that increase in their paychecks in January, so they won’t be seeing anything new if the bill passes.

The legislation also added $222 million to increase the military’s end strength to a total of 1,322,500 active duty troops and 816,900 reserve troops.

That’s an increase of about 17,000 active duty troops and 10,000 reserve troops in 2018.

The bill contains $34.4 billion for defense health and family programs. That number is $764 million above the budget request. The bill provides $359 million for cancer research, $125 million for traumatic brain injury and psychological health research and $287 million for sexual assault prevention and response.

“President Trump is right to insist on rebuilding our military, and this bill begins to do just that,” House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said about the omnibus in a March 21 statement.Congress’ work does not end when we write a check. In the months ahead, we will ensure that the military uses these funds to begin to rebuild quickly and efficiently. We will pursue reforms to the Department of Defense that preserve and enhance our fighting edge.”

The National Defense Industrial Association also applauded the text of the bill.

“The National Defense Industrial Association supports the commitment to our nation’s defense and its warfighters signaled in the recently released omnibus bill. We urge rapid passage of this vital legislation to end budget uncertainty and let the services focus on the hard work of regaining readiness, while recapitalizing and modernizing what is desperately needed to keep our forces preeminent in the face of complex threats,” a March 20 statement reads.

Big Spending

The biggest issue for DoD is figuring out how to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in only half the time while still staying within the legal parameters.

That is particularly tricky for operations and maintenance funding, which expires after one year, unlike procurement funds which can be spent in a three year time period. O&M accounts for about $238 billion in the legislation.

The omnibus bill gives some flexibility to DoD in how it spends its money. One provision changes the “80/20 rule,” which states DoD can’t spend more than 20 percent of its budget in the last two months of the fiscal year.

If passed, the bill will change the rule to a 75/25 rule, giving DoD more options in the last two months of the fiscal year.

The bill also expands DoD’s reprogramming authority.

Reprogramming moves funds from one account to another and in small amounts. DoD can do it on its own as long as it notifies Congress.

In larger amounts, DoD has to receive approval from Congress to move money from one account to another.

Congress is offering to bump up the threshold for congressional approval from $15 million to $20 million.

That gives DoD more ability to move money to areas that need funds more in 2018.

While the bill gives up some of Congress’ power of oversight by increasing the reprogramming threshold, it comes nowhere near where some military officials were requesting.

“Look, you’ve got to give us a little more time to spend the 2018 money and we have low threshold reprogramming authorities right now. What I say is triple it and put whatever hooks you want in,” Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps said earlier this month. “Triple the authority and if we are going to go over that existing authority right now make us come over a week before we are going to do it and brief you, I don’t care, just give us the authority for 2018 dollars across the 2019 line.”

Other officials suggested letting DoD spend some of its money in 2019. That doesn’t look like that will happen in the omnibus, but Congress could still change some spending restrictions later on down the road.