When and if Congress passes a two-year bipartisan spending bill, the Army stands to receive a nearly $7 billion plus-up to its fiscal 2018 budget, most of which will be spent on modernization, according to service officials.
The service’s cut of the $25 billion increase in defense spending proposed in the Bipartisan Budget Act is about $6.8 billion, Secretary Mark Esper said Feb. 21.
“We’re going to continue to build readiness,” Esper told reporters during a roundtable in his office at the Pentagon. “We’ve got these great numbers from Congress for [fiscal] ’18 and ’19. It gives us a couple years here, three years, to build readiness toward the chief’s goal of a ready force by 2022.”
“In the meantime, what we’ll do with our modernization dollars is put money into S&T, we will start laying down the foundations of Army Futures Command, flushing out the processes, procedures, etc., start doing some prototyping, but once we reach that readiness we can really put the foot on the pedal with regard to modernization.”
Earlier in the morning, at the Association of the U.S. Army’s headquarters nearby, Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander said up to 80 percent of the fiscal 2018 windfall would be spent on modernization.
“Between 70 and 80 percent of it will be in modernization,” he said, which works out to between $4.7 and $5.4 billion. Horlander was careful to hedge that assumption because Congress still must approve the spending bill, which likely will happen before the current continuing resolution expires March 23.
“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,” Horlander said.
“I can’t tell you with great certainty that it will be the measure of the increase for fiscal year ’18,” he added. “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 would not specify what areas of modernization any plus-up would go toward, but said allocation would align with the Army’s stated priorities.
“Our priorities are our priorities, but the actual details I couldn’t tell you. We know what we want, but until we see something coming out of Congress I’m not ready to say,” Horlander said. “I know what we the Army would like to see, but until we actually see a legislated and enacted bill … I can’t tell you with great certainty.”
Esper was appreciative for any increase Congress sees fit to bestow upon the Army in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. But, he said, future budgets need to stabilize and be approved in a timely manner if the service is to finish rebuilding its readiness and then pursue its modernization wish list.
“We really appreciate the increases from Congress but … the funding going forward needs to be predictable, adequate, sustained and timely,” Esper said.
The service will be challenged to spend any extra cash responsibly within the five or six months that will remain in fiscal 2018 once the spending bill is passed. The government is running on its fifth CR of the current fiscal year, which has kept the services to fiscal 2017 spending levels. Even once the bipartisan bill becomes law, the Army’s bank account will not immediately swell.
“Once Congress passes it, we don’t get that money immediately, it takes a few weeks, a few weeks, so we could be looking at April…. by the time we start seeing dollars,” Esper said.
“It’s hard now, you have these extra dollars that you have to spend,” he said. “It becomes the O&M dollars. … I’d like more flexibility in how to spend those O&M dollars. For me, one solution is to allow the Army, allow the services to spend O&M dollars over two fiscal years compared to one.”