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Getting an increase in money may now be easier than spending it

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Show me the money! After years of fiscal austerity, getting a huge financial boost is a good problem to have.

However, trying to spend it responsibly before the end of the fiscal year is not.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (H.R. 1892), passed by Congress in early February, is a two-year deal that raised defense spending caps by $80 billion for fiscal 2018 (setting the cap at $629 billion) and $85 billion for fiscal 2019 (setting the cap at $647 billion).

The Army could see a $6.5 billion boost in the fiscal year 2018 budget as a result of the agreement.

At a recent breakfast hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA), Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Horlander (see related story on Page 2), military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for financial management and comptroller, said the Army is preparing for the possible increase with plans to spend up to 80 percent of it on modernization.

“This budget deal is absolutely fundamental to being able to build the force and be the Army that we’re trying to build here. We’re in a better place than what we’ve been in for a very long time,” said Horlander, who explained that the $6.5 billion is not a sure thing.

“I can’t tell you with great certainty that it will be the measure of the increase for fiscal year 18,” he said.

Adding, “We will take whatever funding the Army is provided and we’ll turn that into budgets for 35 different Army commands, push it out to them as quickly as we can.

“It’s not ideal to get a funding decision late in the year, but when it’s an increase, it’s greatly appreciated.”

Horlander declined to specify where the modernization money would be spent, offering a reminder of Army leadership’s stated priorities, which include long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift and increased soldier lethality, among others.

“Our priorities are our priorities, but the actual details I couldn’t tell you,” Horlander said.

Adding, “We know what we want, but until we see something coming out of Congress I’m not ready to say.”

As Horlander said, it is not ideal to get funding so late in the year.

Key lawmakers agree.

Rep. Kay Grange, R-Texas, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee has asked that Congress’s use-it-or-lose-it rules be waived to allow DoD to use its fiscal 2018 financial boost in the fiscal 2019 budget also.

“I couldn’t be more proud of what the Congress approved for defense, but we certainly don’t want to waste that and we don’t want to lose it,” said Granger.

Now, a bipartisan group of senators who sit on the Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee has sent a letter to the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee leadership asking that the one-year limitation for operation and maintenance accounts and the so-called “80/20 Rule” be waived.

Under the latter, no more than 20 percent of one-year appropriations may be obligated during the last two months of the fiscal year. “In an effort to ensure that the Department can responsibly allocate and obligate funds with only half of the fiscal year remaining, we urge Congress to provide the Department with greater spending flexibility for the remainder of this fiscal year,” they wrote.

Without congressional action, the Pentagon would have five months or less to spend the big funding boost.

New legislation spotlight. AUSA supports new legislation that would allow service members to use their military tuition assistance for training programs outside of traditional colleges and universities.

The Senate bill, similar to one introduced by the House late last year, corrects an oversight that has the military training troops in various jobs skills without giving them the piece of paper that would let them translate those skills into a civilian job.

The legislation would permit active duty men and women, who are unable to attend a four-year college, to pursue more than 1,500 different licenses, certifications and credentials using tuition assistance.

A letter of support from retired Gen. Carter F. Ham, AUSA president and CEO, said, “The legislation will allow additional paths to success for service members who are transitioning from the military.”

He added, “Allowing soldiers to use their tuition assistance benefit for licenses, certifications and credentials other than a four-year college degree will allow them to transition their military job skills to productive careers in civilian life. Soldiers with professional civilian credentials will be more marketable to employers, helping them secure satisfying jobs and continue their contribution to their community and the nation. It is critical that we reduce veteran unemployment rates, and this legislation will help achieve that goal.”