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Stopgap Funding Hurts Army Programs

US Capitol Building
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Architect of the Capitol
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The continued inability of Congress to pass annual Defense Department funding on time is hurting the U.S. Army, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said in a Sept. 8 letter to lawmakers that provides examples of the harm. He also warned that failure to allow defense spending to rise would reverse gains made in combat readiness, undermine efforts to grow the force and “obstruct our path to modernization.”

Mattis’ letter comes as Congress has passed and President Donald Trump has signed a stopgap spending bill that keeps the Army and the rest of the federal government running until Dec. 8. That gives more time for lawmakers to reach a compromise on budget priorities, which Mattis says is acceptable if Congress uses the time to pass legislation that ends sequestration and removes arbitrary caps on defense spending.

Here are some of the details provided by Mattis about the impact of operating under temporary funding:

  • The Army will have $400 million less a month in its operating accounts. There are two immediate impacts: Home station training will be restricted and non-critical maintenance work orders will be postponed.
  • No new starts and no production rate increases will be allowed in weapons programs. That affects 18 Army programs that were supposed to start and eight production increases. If the budget isn’t passed after three months, another 24 new starts and seven production increases will be delayed.
  • Growing Army troop strength will be postponed.
  • Major exercises scheduled for spring and summer are in doubt, and training leading up to those exercises must be “rescoped and scaled to incorporate only mission-essential tasks and objectives, so units enter the major exercises less prepared,” Mattis wrote.
  • Professional development and training for soldiers and civilians will be delayed, and non-critical travel including duty station moves could be deferred.
  • Payments to private-sector health care providers will be delayed, which Mattis warns could mean some providers will stop treating Tricare patients.
  • Some supply purchases will be deferred, a move that interferes with maintenance timelines and could end up raising costs.
  • Research and development funds would be reduced to “minimum sustaining” levels.

Retired Gen. Carter F. Ham, president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army, said the details are concerning. “I strongly agree with the warning from Secretary of Defense Mattis about the harm to the Defense Department and Army of starting another fiscal year without a permanent defense budget and of failing to address the threat to national security from the Budget Control Act,” Ham said. “Congress needs to fix this.”