Seeking Flexibility: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying on the 2014 defense budget before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on April 16. (Agence France-Presse)
- Filed Under
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is preparing to ask Congress for permission to shift billions of dollars within its already reduced fiscal 2013 budget primarily to pay for increased war costs, but is still looking for ways to fill a $15 billion operating shortfall.
Defense Department officials want to send the $7.5 billion reprogramming action to Capitol Hill by the end of April, hoping lawmakers will review the request by the end of May, according to sources.
The 2013 Defense Appropriations Act, contained within a spending measure that funds the federal government for the entire year, limits the Pentagon’s ability to request to move money around to $7.5 billion. Of that, $4 billion can be moved within the base budget or overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget. The remaining $3.5 billion can be moved only within the OCO budget.
Sequestration requires DoD to cut $41 billion from its $614 billion 2013 budget, which includes base budget and OCO. Complicating matters are higher-than-anticipated warfighting costs in Afghanistan. To meet these budget caps, the Pentagon has curtailed training and is preparing to furlough civilian workers.
DoD requested about $88 billion for OCO but after sequestration received about $81 billion.
“[T]he military is experiencing higher operating tempos and higher transportation costs than expected when the budget request was formulated, more than a year ago,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at an April 17 House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing. “As a result of these factors, the department is now facing a shortfall in our operation and maintenance accounts for FY 2013 of at least $22 billion in our base budget for active forces.”
The reprogramming will “offset some of our shortfalls, especially shortfalls in wartime funding,” Hagel said, asking Congress for an “expedient review and approval” of the request.
“I’ve told them we’ll do what we can to get that approved quickly,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R. Calif., when asked about DoD’s pending reprogramming earlier this month.
The Army is facing the greatest operating shortfalls since it consumes much of the Afghanistan war spending, according to budget analysts. That means money within the reprogramming could likely be transferred to the Army from Navy and Air Force accounts.
The reprogramming is expected to help alleviate issues with about $7 billion of that $22 billion figure Hagel referenced, leaving DoD with a $15 billion shortfall.
How the department handles that gap is still up for debate within the Pentagon, according to sources.
Budget officials are still determining whether DoD will submit a single $7 billion reprogramming action or multiple requests, according to a defense official.
Even though the reprogramming request is capped at $7.5 billion, DoD can still move money around within accounts if it meets certain criteria.
Between 2000 and 2011, DoD executed 1,126 reprogramming actions totaling $264.8 billion, according to Pentagon documents. More than $174 billion of that total was shifted through so-called internal, below-threshold reprogramming, which is not subject to congressional approval.
But since the Army faces such steep shortfalls, DoD would not be able to use the below-threshold technique to move money from other services into Army operating accounts, according to budget analysts.
“It’s not going to be easy,” a budget analyst said.
The Pentagon views reprogramming as essential since its budget is built about two years before the money is actually executed. Over that time frame, many factors change within specific programs, leading to a need for more or less money. DoD has also historically used reprogramming actions to fulfill urgent battlefield requests.
But Congress is typically not a fan of reprogramming actions and considers them as ways to “circumvent their authority,” one Washington lobbyist said.
The Armed Services and Appropriations committees can veto individual items within reprogramming requests.
“The building has always played a lot of games with the way that they reprogram things,” the lobbyist said. “Congress is getting increasingly attuned to that.”
There is lots of “gamesmanship” between Congress and DoD during the reprogramming development and approval process, the lobbyist said. Sometimes Congress does not approve programs “more on the principle.”
Congress frequently objects to reprogramming requests to launch a new program. ■