WASHINGTON — With nearly half of fiscal 2018 over, top military officials are seeking flexibility from Congress to spend part of a major spending boost later—in fiscal 2019—and some lawmakers are leaning towards yes.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, seemed to favor such an arrangement when he asked several of the services’ top officers for their takes at a readiness hearing Wednesday.
“As you noted, we have a year’s worth of money adds in ’18 and five months to spend it,” affirmed Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters. “It might help if the appropriators can give us some flexibility, so we can spend ’18 money in ’19 and feather in the plan.”
Inhofe is not the first lawmaker to raise this point since last week’s announcement of a two-year bipartisan budget deal—which lifts defense caps to $700 billion in 2018 and $716 billion in 2019. Appropriators have until the current funding patch expires March 23 to craft appropriations bills to the deal’s 2018 top-lines.
On Feb. 7, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry told reporters he was meeting with House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Freylinghusen, R-N.J., and the lead defense appropriator Kay Granger, R-Texas, “about making sure no artificial limitation Congress proposes prevents the Pentagon from spending money.”
“You still have to have accountability,” said Thornberry, R-Texas. “There are different colors of money that they can spend over different periods of time. But I do think there should be some flexibility.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, Vice Chief Of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran said that Navy leaders also want authorization from Congress to spending money in outside of where it will be appropriated.
“We’d like to have authorities to move funding around as we go and inform Congress as we’re doing it,” Moran said, adding later: “The add is so significant that we’re going to have to look at transferring that money from account to account.”
The Army’s vice chief, Gen. James McConville, said that rushing to execute contracts, “we don’t get the same type of rigor we would like to get if we had it sooner,” adding: “Certainly we appreciate the authorizations for readiness. We just need to get it in the hands of our units so they can spend it.”
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.