White House ticks off objections to appropriations legislation

The House Appropriations Committee approved the House’s Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2016 on a voice vote Tuesday.

The bill provides $578.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Pentagon. This is an increase of $24.4 billion over the FY 2015 enacted level and $800 million more than President Barack Obama asked for in his budget request.

“Now, more than ever, we must ensure that our troops and officers have the resources they need to protect this great nation and our way of life,” Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, in a release. “This bill makes responsible use of every tax dollar to give our armed forces the resources they need to stay safe, prepared, and in peak fighting form.”

The bill now moves on to the House floor for a full vote.

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The bill’s passage came a day after the Obama administration released a string of strongly-worded statements of policy opposing some of the GOP-written appropriations bills working their way through Congress, including the DoD bill.

In a letter to Rogers, Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, criticized the bill the House committee approved today.

“The DOD Appropriations bill is the sixth House appropriations bill being considered under the congressional Republicans’ 2016 budget framework, which would lock in sequestration funding levels for FY 2016,” Donovan wrote. “Sequestration was never intended to take effect: rather, it was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms. The Republicans’ 2016 budget framework would bring base discretionary funding for both non-defense and defense to the lowest levels in a decade, adjusted for inflation.”

He added that sequestration funding levels would hurt the economy and risk national security by putting unnecessary pressures on the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development and other non-defense agencies.

“More broadly, the strength of our economy and the security of our Nation are linked,” Donovan wrote. “That is why the President has been clear that he is not willing to lock in sequestration going forward, nor will he accept fixes to defense without also fixing non-defense. The President’s Budget would reverse sequestration and replace the savings with commonsense spending and tax reforms.”

Donovan says House’s DoD appropriations bill relies on “gimmicks”

Donovan also said the House’s 2016 DoD budget relied on “gimmicks” to pay for Defense. For example, the bill cuts approximately $36 billion from base funding — about 7 percent under Obama’s budget proposal. In turn, the GOP plan uses Overseas Contigency Operations (OCO) funding to pay for base requirements.

“The Subcommittee’s deliberate relabeling of non-war costs as OCO clearly violates OCO funding’s purpose,” Donovan wrote. “For instance, the Subcommittee bill funds $7 billion in compensation for servicemembers whose billets were not created for temporary operations as if their compensation is a temporary cost of war instead of a basic obligation. It pays for $17 billion of the day-to-day peacetime costs of military operations and maintenance and $13 billion of long-planned long-term investments in equipment and technology development as if these investments are a result of ongoing overseas contingencies. Many in the Republican Caucus, as well as many Democrats, have expressed concern about this approach.”

The White House had many of the same objections to the Senate’s version of the FY2016 Defense Authorization Act (S. 1376). In s policy statement sent to Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), the administration criticized the use of OCO funds to pay for basic operations and setting non-Defense funding at sequestration levels.

In the area of Defense acquisition, the administration claimed that several provisions in S. 1376 undermined the executive branch’s oversight of program management.

“Section 843 would significantly reduce the Secretary of Defense’s ability — through the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics USD(AT&L) — to guard against unwarranted optimism in program planning and budget formulation, and prevent excessive risk taking during execution — all of which is essential to avoiding overruns and costly delays,” the statement said. “Program planning, management, and execution are already Service responsibilities. The USD(AT&L) reviews Service plans at discrete milestones associated with major Department resource commitments to ensure programs are affordable, executable, and follow sound business and risk management practices. The prohibition on documentation without a determination by the Deputy Chief Management Officer also abrogates the ability of the Secretary and Under Secretary to conduct routine execution monitoring of programs, thus handcuffing their ability to intercede unless and only until notified programs are at risk of failure.”

The Senate bill, from the administration’s point of view, doesn’t do enough to help modernize DoD’s TRICARE health care program.

“TRICARE remains fundamentally unchanged since its inception in the mid-1990’s and is antiquated by contemporary health plan standards,” the statement said. “The Consolidated Health Plan structure would provide DOD with substantial projected savings, simplify TRICARE for beneficiaries, and offer participants more freedom to choose providers. Failing to enact the TRICARE and other various reform proposals would compel DOD to take additional reductions in the areas of readiness, modernization, and force structure.”

The White House also objected to a provision of the Senate’s bill that would prohibit another round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC). The administration said another BRAC round would help right- size DoD’s infrastructure.

The House’s proposed budget would also cut DHS’ funding by 5 percent, Donovan said, and the House’s Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill undercuts Obama’s budget request for veterans’ medical care in excess of half a billion dollars.

Donovan sent a letter to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee raising many of the same objections to that chamber’s FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.

“Underfunding the FY 2016 Budget request for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Care by nearly half a billion dollars, equivalent to the cost of providing care for tens of thousands of veterans,” Donovan wrote. “If enacted, the bill would negatively impact veterans’ medical care services, including reducing VA’s ability to activate new and replacement facilities with sufficient staff and equipment and to adequately maintain facility infrastructure.”

White House criticizes proposed cuts to non-Defense spending

The administration also released policy statements on two other appropriations bills being considered by Rogers’ committee: Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R 2577) and Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R 2578).

Like the Defense appropriations bill, the administration criticized the impact sequestration funding and the subsequent cuts would have on the non-defense agencies these bills would fund. Both statements say the President’s advisers would recommend he veto them.

Here are details about the Administration’s position on some of the proposals presented in H.R 2577 and 2578:

TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT

  • Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Facilities and Equipment account – H.R. 2577 would only provide $2.5 billion for FAA’s Facilities and Equipment account, which is the lowest funding level for that account in 15 years and $355 million less than the President requested in his budget.

    “At this level, the FAA would be hampered in its ability to maintain the capacity and safety of the current National Airspace System and would be required to slow the modernization of the Nation’s air traffic system through NextGen — the next generation of air traffic control technology,” the statement said.

    Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – President Obama requested $150 million in funding for WMATA, which provides mass transit services for the Washington, D.C. region. HR. 2577 proposes just $100 million for FY 2016.

    Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) – The administration requests full funding for the Department of Transportation to implement the DATA Act.

    U.S. Digital Service Team – The administration requests full funding for the Department of Transportation to develop a U.S. Digital Service team.

DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD)

  • Information Technology (IT) and Digital Services – The administration requested $324 million to fund HUD’s basic IT operations, but H.R. 2577 is proposing just $100 million.

    “This funding level provides HUD with less than half of the necessary funding for basic IT operations and would likely require shutdown of core IT systems as well as cancellation or deferral of all development, modernization and enhancement projects, putting every element of HUD’s core mission at risk,” the statement said. “Further, the failure to fund a U.S. Digital Service team represents a missed opportunity to improve key agency services and programs that impact the public.”

COMMERCE DEPARTMENT

  • Census Bureau Periodic Censuses and Programs (including 2020 Decennial Census) – “The Committee’s proposed funding level would increase taxpayers’ cost of conducting the 2020 Decennial Census by billions of dollars by preventing the Census Bureau from developing, testing, and implementing critical cost saving innovations,” the statement said. “In addition, the reductions in funding for the American Community Survey threaten the data availability and coverage for rural communities and communities with small populations, depriving businesses and policy makers of the data necessary to make informed decisions.”
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Labs – H.R. 2578 eliminates funding for NIST’s lab-to-market initiative, slowing the progression of cutting-edge technology from government labs into the marketplace.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Infrastructure – H.R. 2578 fails to provide the resources needed to fund the next generation fo polar-orbiting weather satellites. The Government Accountability Office said continuity of these satellites is a high risk.

    “In addition to informing the day-to-day operations of businesses and individuals, weather data from NOAA satellites help predict the potential impact of extreme weather events, which lets communities and emergency responders prepare,” the statement said. “Not only would the bill heighten the risk of a gap in satellite coverage, but its shortsighted reductions mean that the next generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites would cost taxpayers more.”

  • NOAA Operations – H.R. 2578 funds the National Ocean Service and climate research programs at 15 percent and 32 percent, respectively, below levels proposed by the White House.
  • U.S. Digital Service Team – The White House urged Congress to fully-fund its $6.4 million request for Commerce to establish a U.S. Digital Services team.

NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION (NASA)

  • Commercial Crew Program – H.R. 2578 is proposing funding for NASA’s Commercial Crew program at $243 million less than the administration’s request.

    “This would delay the date for launching U.S. astronauts to the space station with U.S. rockets and force a continued reliance on Russian capabilities, which currently require payments to Russia of approximately $500 million per year,” the statement said.

  • DATA ACT – The administration requests full funding for NASA to implement the DATA Act.

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