A stopgap measure that will fund the federal government for the next six months will create “serious problems” at the Pentagon, particularly if the U.S. Congress does not pass dedicated defense legislation by the end of December.
While the bill averts the risk of a government shutdown, the Defense Department did not get approval for certain legislative authorities — for instance, to perform aircraft carrier overhauls, according to Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale.
“We’re looking at work-arounds, but they’re challenging,” Hale said at a Sept. 25 event in Washington hosted by Government Executive magazine.
These work-arounds would help DoD through December, but it would need an authorization bill after that.
“If we go beyond December, we lose more authorities and a lot of the work-arounds will fail,” Hale said.
The Pentagon cannot launch new weapon programs or increase production rates, “which will interfere with some programs.
“We need the Congress to return to an orderly budget process, under which they pass authorization and appropriation legislation in a reasonably timely fashion,” he said.
Congress passed the six-month spending measure, know as a continuing resolution, late last week. Hale said he expects President Barack Obama to sign the bill this week. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The bill keeps DoD’s funding at 2012 spending levels, but war spending is funded at the Pentagon’s 2013 requested level of $88.5 billion.
Despite the six-month spending bill, the Pentagon is facing about $500 billion in mandatory cuts over the next 10 years. The cuts, known as sequestration, were mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
If sequestration begins on Jan 2, DoD will not have to cancel contracts for money that was already obligated, according to Hale.
“[T]here won’t be [on] Jan. 2 a lot of contract cancellations,” he said. “It’s not going to happen under the law.”
Still, DoD might not be able to pick up contract options, and it might have to modify strategies for contracts it intended to award.
Despite multiple attempts by attendees and journalists at the event, Hale declined to discuss specific programs and areas that might be cut if sequestration is implemented. He reiterated prior comments that the Pentagon is not planning for sequestration, yet.
The U.S. Air Force might have to cancel its contract with Boeing to buy KC-46 refueling tanker planes if Congress fails to modify the sequestration law, said Maj. Gen. John Thompson, the service’s tanker program executive officer and KC-46 program director.