DoD’s No. 2 says smaller budget would slow modernization

The Defense Department is expecting feedback from the military services on Monday for what a $700 billion budget would look like in 2020, but it would likely mean pushing the brakes on some of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ goals to expand the military.

Donald Trump, Patrick Shanahan
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, right, listens to President Donald Trump during a White House meeting in July 2018.

The idea for a $700 billion budget, as opposed to the anticipated $733 billion budget, is more of a reality now that the Democrats will have control of the House of Representatives in 2019, and since President Donald Trump asked DoD to create a budget with a 5 percent cut.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon that he expects a lower budget would fetter some of DoD’s goals.

“End strength. That will come back,” Shanahan said. “Quantities on capacity that we are procuring right now, you can go down the list of the things we are buying and maybe dial back a number of programs. Then we have the modernization piece, the pace there. Then we have available to us things like pay. Those are all elements that are in the services.”

Shanahan said the fourth estate would also take cuts. He said there are many areas where there are discretionary work statement and cuts to those agencies would look more targeted than taking away a specific line item.

“Here’s the process that we are going through,” Shanahan said. “We spent the better part of 10 months developing a budget — that’s the $733 billion — and that’s the strategy driven budget. The good news on that is we finished a month early. About three weeks ago, the president at a cabinet meeting said ‘I’d like the Department of Defense to look at a 5 percent cut’ which equated to $700 billion and said ‘Go work on that.’ Since that point in time, we’ve been doing that exercise to answer his directive.”

Findings expected after holiday

Shanahan said DoD will need a few days to interpret the new budget and to run it through the office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and the DoD comptroller. The next step will be to sit down with Mattis and then to deliver the results to the president after Thanksgiving.

The 2020 budget is supposed to be aligned with the National Defense Strategy and DoD is posturing the budget to give the military the leg up the department needs in near-peer competition. The last few budgets under Mattis were focused on rebuilding readiness.

“What I want the president to understand when we bring the $700 billion budget forward is: What are those tradeoffs?” Shanahan said. “I either get reduced capacity, I get lower quantities of procurement, I change modernization, my reforms are certain size. He really needs an awareness of what that translates to in terms of performance here in the department.”

New Congress may have a different take

Congress is already signaling different philosophies on the defense budget. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Wednesday that he thought $733 billion should be the floor.

On the other hand, likely-House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash) said in September that Congress needs to take a more rational approach to the defense budget.

Smith said Democrats will look at how they can, within a reasonable budget, manage risk while also prioritizing other factors that make a country “safe, secure and prosperous” like paying down debt and fixing infrastructure.

“The biggest problem I feel that we’ve had is, because we get this ‘Oh my God we have to cover everything [mindset],’ we wind up covering nothing well and that leaves the men and women who serve us in a position where they are not properly trained, properly equipped to meet all the missions we want them to meet,” he said. “It’s a complete impossibility to meet all the missions that we dream up.”