DoD Comptroller Robert Hale (Defense News files)
WASHINGTON — The White House has yet to send the US Congress a line-by-line breakdown of its fiscal 2015$56 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative (OGSI) — of which $26 billion is earmarked for the Pentagon. But Congress’ support for the spending plan tacked onto the new budget request seems unlikely.
Even Defense Department officials acknowledge that receiving backing for the stand-alone funding measure — which Pentagon officials stress would repair military readiness problems caused by sequestration in 2013 — will be an uphill battle.
“I think it may be a long shot,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said March 6.
Hale — who after more than five years as the Pentagon comptroller is retiring upon confirmation of his deputy, Mike McCord — said Congress would need to increase defense spending caps for DoD to get the extra cash.
“I don’t have the sense they’re inclined to do that,” he said. “I hope so, because we strongly support it. We need the readiness dollars. It would mitigate near-term readiness risk. But I think it may be a long shot.”
Nearly two weeks since the White House sent its 2015 budget to Congress, all of the details of this $26 billion initiative have not been disclosed. Sources last week indicated certain items within the measure were still being finalized.
Pentagon budget documents, released March 4, shine some light on procurement, maintenance and military construction projects requested in the initiative, including:
■26 Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters ($600 million).
■28 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters ($500 million).
■Two Boeing CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters ($100 million).
■Eight Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft ($1.1 billion).
■10 Lockheed Martin C-130J cargo planes ($1.1 billion).
■Two Lockheed F-35 joint strike fighters ($300 million).
■12 General Atomics MQ-9 UAVs ($200 million).
■US Army training ($1.8 billion).
■US Navy demolition and facility sustainment, recapitalization and modernization ($2.3 billion).
Officials in the administration of President Barack Obama say they would pay for the bill through “savings from commonsense spending reforms,” and “savings from reducing tax benefits for multimillion dollar retirement accounts.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said passage of the additional White House spending plan is not likely.
Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, bluntly said: “I do not think [it] is gonna happen,” referring to the initiative.
Analysts such as the Stimson Center’s Gordon Adams say the $56 billion package is doomed in the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, where he says it would fail to get 60 votes to break a filibuster threat.
Lawmakers said that of all the Pentagon’s controversial 2015 budget proposals, the $26 billion list will stir the biggest fight.
“I think perhaps the real focus is going to be on that additional fund,” the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said last week.
“The recent budget agreement ... prohibited taxing and spending,” the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Defense News last week. “The president should comply with the law. Surely, it would be astounding that eight weeks after signing Ryan-Murray, he would propose to bust it. Astounding.”
Military Service Requests
The US Air Force has requested $7 billion in the OGSI, and indications are the funding stream will mirror the service’s prioritization of modernized systems. That includes half a billion dollars in readiness programs, such as training, ranges and vehicle support, as well as $1.9 billion for modernization programs for older aircraft like the F-22 fighter and B-2 bomber.
According to Maj. Gen. James Martin, the Air Force deputy assistant secretary for budget, that modernization fund will not include the F-16 Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite upgrade, which was not included in the Air Force’s base budget request.
The biggest chunk of OGSI funds — $3.1 billion — would go toward what Martin called the “enormous backlog of facility requirements across our Air Force.”
Eric Fanning, Air Force undersecretary, confirmed last week that Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, and Gen. Larry Spencer, the vice chief, are developing an unfunded requirements list.
“I expect that it will align very closely with our share of the $26 billion growth and opportunity fund for ’15,” Fanning said March 11 at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
“There are some emergent requirements since we put that together, but I think the Air Force’s unfunded requirement list will look very similar to what went into that opportunity and growth fund,” he said. “We’re working with the chief and the vice on that right now.”
Overall, the Army’s slice of the pie would be $7.5 billion, which officials say would largely go toward training and readiness accounts, which took a big hit in the 2013 sequester budget.
The Army’s budget director, Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, said on March 5 that “we’re not completely finalized yet on what we’re going to [do] if we get that funding,” but that the service was certain the money “would go toward operation and maintenance to buy more training, and then a little bit less than 50 percent would go to overall modernization, mostly in aircraft.”
In addition to the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative, the Pentagon is still compiling the unfunded requirements list (UFR) with input from each of the services and Special Operations Command. The lists, which then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates suspended in 2012, are in response to a 2013 sense-of-the-Congress provision and a request by Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).
At least one of the services has completed its unfunded list. The Navy on March 10 pushed its final UFR to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Pentagon sources said the Navy’s UFR is identical to its $9 billion OGSI request, but adds two major elements — $796 million to operate the aircraft carrier George Washington, support its air wing, and fund advance procurement for the ship’s nuclear reactor refueling overhaul which, should Congress break certain sequestration provisions, would be funded in 2016; and $2.1 billion to buy 22 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft.
The Navy and Marine Corps have completed the planned acquisition of all variants of the F/A-18. But without a specific request, Congress provided $75 million in the 2014 defense appropriations act in advanced procurement funding for 22 Growlers. The Navy’s electronic attack aircraft meet servicewide needs, and the leadership supports adding the planes.
“We don’t think electronic attack is going to get any smaller,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the HASC on March 12. “Today, we have the minimum numbers in each squadron. Looking out to the future, and to what electronic attack may or will become, it’s an insurance policy. It’s a hedge.”
The additional aircraft would allow the Navy to expand each Growler squadron from five to seven aircraft. It would also keep the aircraft in production an additional year, allowing Boeing more time to make a foreign military sales deal before the line closes.
Without the additional aircraft, production of all EA-18Gs or F/A-18 Super Hornets would likely end in 2016. ■
Marcus Weisgerber, John T. Bennett, Aaron Mehta, Paul McLeary and Christopher P. Cavas contributed to this report.