Military officials encouraged by possible budget reforms, but want Congress to address CRs too

Top maritime military officials say revamping the Defense Department’s budget process could be beneficial for the services, but say they also see a need for l...

Top maritime military officials say revamping the Defense Department’s budget process could be beneficial for the services, but say they also see a need for legislative reforms as well.

The Pentagon is undertaking a look at how it budgets and plans for the first time since the Vietnam era, the Congressionally-mandated panel is just staffing up at this point with the likes of former acquisition chief Ellen Lord, former comptroller Robert Hale and former Defense Innovation Unit Director Raj Shah.

“There’s probably no better cast of professionals to undertake this task,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, deputy Marine Corps commandant for programs and resources. “The down and in task to look at planning, to look at programming, budgeting and execution absolutely needs to be done. Not only to economize in resources, but to tighten the timeline of how quickly we can turn a dream into a requirement into something that we can execute.”

As technologies and world diplomacy work in smaller time frames, the traditional two-year budget cycle just isn’t cutting it for the military services.

The Government Accountability Office recently came out with a report on how long acquisition and budgeting processes are harming DoD’s plan to invest and ramp up artificial intelligence.

“DoD has long recognized these difficulties, particularly in moving technologies from research and development to further maturity and production within the acquisition community for eventual delivery to the warfighter,” the report states. “Our prior reports note that this gap exists because the acquisition community often requires a higher level of technology maturity than the science and technology community is willing to fund and develop.”

Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said budget reforms in the two year cycle regarding IT have been very helpful. IT and cyber now fall mostly under research and development appropriations.

“We have multi-year money and are trying to move faster,” he said Wednesday at an AFCEA event. “But, we do have challenges with flexibility and appropriation and time delay.”

While DoD is looking internally, the Marine and Navy budgeting chiefs also want Congress to hold a mirror to itself.

“We’ve had one enacted on-time budget in the last 10 years,” Mahoney said. “I think as much as we look down and in, we need to look up and out at the process that produces a .900 batting average for continuing resolutions. There’s something to be looked at on the legislative side. I mean, I’d take those odds to Vegas for a CR.”

Gumbleton said the legislative process has made the military learn bad behavior.

Because of the consistency of CRs, the military spends money like it has actual appropriations when it doesn’t.

“We don’t self-regulate or self-govern early, except to the limit where we only have 2021 value,” Gumbleton said. “We’ve spent the last decade deferring contracts to the second quarter.”

Gumbleton said the Navy is actually evolving and beginning to push some of its contracts into the third quarter now.

“That’s not a great way to support or be a part of our industrial base,” Gumbleton said. “When you consider that we probably did that several years ago means multiple years of simply swinging behind the pitch.”

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