WASHINGTON — The White House is preparing to submit top line budget proposals to Congress in mid-March with more detailed documentation to follow later that month, Defense News has learned.
The Pentagon is preparing to send its fiscal 2014 budget — a spending plan that does not take into account massive cuts scheduled to kick in at the beginning of March and whose timeframe has been murky until now — to Congress on March 25, according to a Feb. 5 memo signed by Pentagon Deputy Comptroller John Roth.
While the date is still considered “notional” and could change depending on whether sequestration — $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade — begins on March 1, U.S. Defense Department planners are using the date as they refine the 2014 budget proposal, according to the memo and defense officials.
At the same time, the Pentagon’s 2014 budget proposal might be sent to lawmakers without a war funding section, according to the memo. In addition, the Pentagon is preparing to send its intelligence budget proposal to Congress on April 8 and its information technology spending plan on April 12.
The 60-page Feb. 5 memo — internal guidance that was sent to service, agency and combatant command comptrollers — paints a picture of just how uncertain and complicated the Pentagon’s budget planning process has become over the past year.
“This has been an extraordinary program/budget review and we are in the final stages of completing the necessary actions required to support the FY 2014 president’s budget submission,” Roth wrote.
What’s more, much of the proposal could be upended if sequestration kicks in. Also complicating the request: the Pentagon is operating under a continuing resolution, which is $11 billion less than DoD’s 2013 spending request.
If sequestration goes into effect, the Pentagon would have to cut $46 billion between March and September.
Last week, President Barack Obama called on Congress to delay sequestration so he and lawmakers could have more time to iron out a long-term deficit reduction plan.
“If Congress cannot act immediately on a bigger package ... by the time the sequester is [scheduled to] take effect, I believe they should pass a smaller package of cuts and tax reforms to delay by a few more months the sequester,” Obama said Feb. 5.
Republicans immediately pushed back against Obama’s proposal.
House Republicans “believe there is a better way to reduce the deficit, but Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes,” said House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. “The president’s sequester should be replaced with spending cuts and reforms that will start us on the path to balancing the budget in 10 years.”
Sequestration in 2014
While sequestration would pose significant problems across the military for the six months remaining in fiscal 2013, it might be slightly less complicated to deal with in fiscal 2014, which starts Oct. 1.
Todd Harrison, a senior defense budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the Pentagon would receive some amount of relief with its 2014 budget plan.
That’s because defense budget officials would retain control over how the second year of the sequester cuts would be implemented. But that does not mean they would be totally out of the budgetary woods.
“The problem is, in the 2014 request, the Pentagon is about $50 billion above the cap because they’re not taking into account the sequester,” Harrison said, referring to a spending ceiling set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
“When are they going to re-plan that?” Harrison asked. “I mean, just look how long it has taken them” to move toward closing a 2014 budget request, he added. “And that was to implement a smaller cut.”
Harrison questioned whether the DoD would, should the sequester cut kick in March 1, rip up its 2014 plan and factor in sequestration.
“There may not be the time nor the political willingness to do that,” Harrison said. “And if the Pentagon exceeds that cap, there would be another sequester in ‘14 to get under the cap — another across-the-board salami slice.”
The Pentagon’s 2014 budget plan — which is due to the White House on March 1 — does not factor in sequestration. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not instructed DoD to prepare a spending plan that factors in these types of cuts.
Should OMB issue this guidance, it would delay DoD’s budget submission a couple of months so revisions could be made, according to a defense official.
“If sequestration is triggered ... much of the work going into the 2014 budget will have been an exercise in futility,” Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a DoD spokeswoman said. “We will have to redo the budget.”
Military officials are quick to point out that sequestration would still cut their 2014 budget by $50 billion and force a major overhaul of the Pentagon’s year-old military strategy.
“We will have more flexibility to allocate where the money goes on 1 October if we go into sequestration, but our spending levels will still be down,” Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff, said on Feb. 7. “It’s not like we can limp through ‘13 and we get better on 1 October. That’s not the case if sequestration is triggered.”
Services Preparing for Sequestration
Over the past two weeks, the Navy, Army and Air Force have all put together plans detailing how they believe sequestration will affect their services.
All of the services said readiness would be hurt the most by sequestration and the continuing resolution. The Navy announced last week it will postpone the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East due to the lack of funds.
The services have already curtailed base construction projects and nearly 800,000 DoD civilians are facing 22-day furloughs.
Some of the Army cuts include stopping post-combat equipment repair and maintenance for 1,300 tactical wheeled vehicles, 14,000 communication devices and 17,000 weapons.
Four out of five brigade combat teams will be unprepared to meet the needs of combatant commanders. Combat training center rotations and joint exercises will be canceled. A number of Army divisions will not have the gear they need.
“This is a very hard exercise for us to go through as an Army,” a senior Army official said. “We really are putting our best effort forward to make sure we are coordinated and synchronized to maintain our readiness posture and keep looking forward as much as we can within our budget constraints.”
The Air Force has delayed F-35 joint strike fighter, Space-Based Infrared System satellite and AC-130J gunship acquisitions in anticipation of sequestration. If the cuts go into effect, the air service has said it would reduce ground radar site operations from 24 hours to eight hours.
Should sequestration continue over the long term, Pentagon officials have said they would need to conduct a major overhaul of DoD’s military strategy, which places major emphasis on the Pacific, Middle East and special operations.
“I think it’s clear that if we go into sequester, we will have to relook at the strategy and perhaps redo the strategy and that would sort of drive what we do as a joint team,” Spencer said.
The Pentagon is in the early stages of preparing another major strategy project, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which is the document that lists the Pentagon’s strategy and priorities based on future threat assessments.
Each of the services has been setting up teams that will work on the QDR.
“We don’t anticipate the nation is ready to let go of many of the missions that the Air Force is asked to carry out,” Jamie Morin, the acting Air Force undersecretary, said on Feb. 7 when asked if his service is looking at shedding missions in light of budget cuts.
Morin pointed to the Air Force’s operation of global positioning system satellites widely used by the military and civilians, the need for “global, integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” high end command and control, and space, cyber and air superiority.
“All of those are things the joint warfighters [have] come to rely on,” he said. “Some have been areas absolutely that have seen recent growth and we will look at those areas. We will assess whether we’ve got our quantities right. But I don’t see us walking away from major mission areas.”
During a speech at Georgetown University last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta questioned the military’s ability to respond to a crisis should sequestration go into effect.
“These steps would seriously damage a fragile American economy, and they would degrade our ability to respond to crises precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe — North Africa to the Strait of Hormuz, from Syria to North Korea,” Panetta said. “But we would have no choice but to implement these kinds of measures if Congress fails to carry out its basic responsibilities.”
John T. Bennett and Lance M. Bacon contributed to this report.