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Budget uncertainty looms again over DoD and the Army

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Welcome to the new Congressional year. What a start 2019 and the 116th Congress have had so far: the partial government shutdown, a funding bill along with a declared emergency to add funding to the border wall, the delay in the budget being submitted to Congress, and the beginning of congressional hearings and preparations for many more hearings to come.

And we are only in February!

The administration is required by law (31 U.S.C. 1105(a)) to submit its budget request to the Congress by the first Monday in February, but once again the budget is delayed. This year the delay is due to the government shutdown.

The Army staff currently expects the Department of Defense will brief and release the budget for fiscal year 2020 in mid-March, around the 11th, with budget details such as the Procurement and Research & Development documents being available the following week. Of course, this may change.

With the delay in the budget, the posture hearings (where the service secretaries and service chiefs testify before the Armed Services Committees and the Defense Appropriation Sub-committees on the “posture” of their respective services) are scheduled to begin with a hearing before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on March 13.

For the past few years, the Army’s top budget priority has been to restore readiness, and readiness remains the Army’s top priority.

With the budget for fiscal year 2020, we are told the Army will dedicate more funding to modernization to address longer-term readiness, lethality and overmatch.

The overarching budget challenge for DoD and the federal government is the return of the Budget Control Act budget caps in 2020.

Fiscal year 2019 is the second year of the current two-year budget deal. Without an agreement between the administration and Congress, sequestration will kick in with the new year, 2020.

Absent an agreement, the defense budget will take about a $71 billion reduction from fiscal year 2019 levels and the non-defense budget will take about a $55 billion reduction.

These are big numbers that will have a considerable impact on the Army’s priorities for readiness and modernization.

With the national election last November and the changes in the House of Representatives, the administration cannot count upon support from Congress as it has in the past, either.

One possible solution for the defense budget being discussed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe and other congressional leaders would be for the administration to submit the defense budget at the Budget Control Act level for fiscal year 2020 and then include a non-war related budget request with the war related request, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations budget.

There is much deliberation and many hearings to go through before we will know the outcome, but the Defense Department and military services are continuing to emphasize the importance of the budget for fiscal year 2020 being approved (authorized and appropriated) in time for the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2019.

We will continue to provide updates on the budget, along with the Armed Services Committees and Appropriations Committees, as the 116th Congress reviews and deliberates on the submitted budget and acts, or does not act, to pass legislation funding the Defense Department and the Army in time for the new fiscal year.

Please stay tuned for more information in upcoming columns.

Mark Haaland is AUSA’s Government Affairs Director.