WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is preparing to put forward a 2015 budget proposal that was built assuming billions of dollars in sequestration spending cuts, however it will use $30 billion in restored funding over the next two years to buy back readiness shortfalls and critical modernization programs.
US Defense Department officials had been preparing as many as four 2015 budget plans, ranging from one that built on the Obama administration’s 2014 budget plan to another than encompassed cuts of about $50 billion per year over a five-year period. The sequestration budget is called the Alt POM, which stands for alternative program objective memorandum. The House and Senate have passed — and the president is expected to sign — a two-year federal spending plan, that raises DoD’s 2014 budget cap by $21 billion and 2015 spending cap by nearly $10 billion.
“We know what the bottom looks like; the money that’s coming back, we’re buying it back,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a briefing at the Pentagon Thursday. “We’ll buy it up to the level we can buy it and there will still be a delta. The work is done.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the chiefs of the military services on Wednesday where they discussing areas to use the money that is being restored in 2014 and 2015. Hagel said DoD will “work to minimize disruption to our most critical modernization efforts” in addition to readiness.
The Pentagon’s $527 billion fiscal 2014 budget proposal was $52 billion above federal spending caps. Under the compromise budget passed by Congress, DoD spending is capped at about $498 billion. DoD still faces full sequestration-level budget caps from 2016 into the next decade.
The budget deal gives DoD predictability for the next two years, Hagel noted. The secretary called the compromise budget — developed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — “a step in the right direction,” but noted the Pentagon still “faces very difficult budget decisions,” particularly how to reduce its force structure and reform military compensation.
“As we head into 2014, I think we’re beginning to turn the page on a prolonged period of fiscal uncertainty,” he said at the same briefing. “The budget deal ... provides some relief from DoD and the devastating cuts of sequestration in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
USAF Looks to Boost Readiness
The Air Force hopes to use its extra cash on readiness, according to a service spokeswoman.
“Air Force leadership would recommend that additional funding first be used to restore flying hours and weapon system sustainment levels, allowing units to begin to recover from the readiness damage done by sequestration,” Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, wrote in an emailed statement. “Additionally, we would seek to protect our top three investment programs [the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter, Boeing KC-46 tanker replacement program, and new long-range strike bomber] and fund readiness enablers and critical installation requirements such as new mission beddowns, ranges, radars, airfields, taxiways and compliance deficiencies.”
Stefanek cautioned that “until an appropriation is signed, the Air Force does not know yet how much funding it will receive and the Congress will ultimately decide where those dollars are spent,” meaning plans could change. And even with the funds, the service still expects to feel “significant impacts” to investment programs.
Eric Fanning, Air Force Acting Secretary, said at a Nov. 18 event that the service would focus on readiness investments if it received any unexpected funds.
“What really suffers is readiness. That’s been a very hard thing to describe,” Fanning said. “We’re going to have a real hole in our readiness accounts the next five years if we stay under the sequestered numbers. So there’s a lot of risk there.”
Fanning added that he would also like to buy back delayed F-35 purchases.
Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.