Former defense officials now representing industry have indicated support for a new bill moving through the Senate that would require the government to work consistently on a two-year budget cycle, arguing that it would increase funding stability and resiliency for the Pentagon.
The Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday passed a bipartisan bill that would enact overall budget resolutions over a two-year cycle while retaining current annual appropriations, and includes a measure that would increase total defense spending to $750 billion for fiscal year 2020. The bill’s co-sponsors, committee chair Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), hope it will help reduce deficits by more than $538 billion over the next five years.
Retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the president and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association and former Air Combat Command commander, called the bill – titled the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act of 2019 – “a great idea” that would help take the topline budget number “out of the political football realm” during a Thursday panel discussion at Defense One’s Outlook 2020 conference in Washington, D.C.
He advocated for the bill as a solution to Congress’ now frequent continuing resolutions that negatively impact defense planning, noting that the way lawmakers currently fund the Pentagon will have to shift to address current capability development timelines.
“The way the Pentagon procures equipment has got to change. I think the colors of money has to change just given great power competition, [and] the way technology has evolved,” Carlisle said. “The way that systems evolve today … they’re monolithic, they’re huge, they take a long time and unfortunately that’s not the way of the future.”
Eric Fanning, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association and former Secretary of the Army, agreed with Carlisle that a two-year budget process would positively benefit the Pentagon as it looks to invest heavily in next-generation technologies needed in an era of great power competition with peer adversaries.
“Absolutely the most important thing we can do for DoD is to get some stability back into the process and if we can lengthen that planning timeline that’s even better,” Fanning said on the panel.
The way the Defense Department funding is budgeted in a so-called stable year is difficult enough, Fanning added. “We have an annual budget that we create every year and gets passed every year, which is just not an effective way to plan for the DoD, based on how long it takes to build the equipment and to train the people who use it.”
But the Pentagon can’t even rely on yearly funding as it has grown used to legislation being ground to a halt on Capitol Hill, he noted. Behind the scenes, Pentagon officials now plan for multiple budget iterations in anticipation of a potential CR or government shutdown, a process that takes time away from critical training or investment planning.
“The amount of work that’s going into being ready for whatever comes out of the political process is very distracting, and it’s hard to overstate … how disruptive preparing for that is,” Fanning said.
Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) members Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) are co-sponsors of the new bill.
“The sad reality is that Congress has only funded the government on time four times in the 45 years since the 1974 Budget Act became law,” said Perdue in a Wednesday statement. “We are finally taking a major step toward our goal of achieving a politically neutral platform that will fund the government on time every year.”
“Now, it’s absolutely critical that we work to establish funding deadlines with severe consequences if Congress doesn’t get the job done,” he continued. “We’ll never fully fix this broken funding process or the national debt crisis if Congress refuses to hold itself accountable for failure.”