WASHINGTON – If the federal government ends up operating under a continuing resolution this fall, the U.S. Navy wouldn’t be able to buy the ships and weapons it needs in fiscal 2022, wouldn’t have enough money operate the fleet and might have to cut back on people, the Navy’s top budget officer said.
Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said during a panel at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference that under a CR, which maintains FY21 spending levels, the service would have $14 billion in the wrong funding accounts.
“There’s no goodness with a CR,” he said.
Though the Navy received a funding top line in FY21 that’s about $4.5 billion greater than it’s seeking in FY22, Gumbleton said he’d rather have a lower top line than more money with significant restrictions. Under a CR, for example, no new programs can begin and programs can’t add quantity beyond what was planned in the previous year.
“When you look at the new starts or production increases, that’s actually a loss of almost $8 billion” that the Navy wanted to spend in FY22 that wouldn’t be allowed under a CR.
Gumbleton added that personnel and operations and maintenance costs are outpacing inflation, while the Navy’s budget was already set to increase less than the rate of inflation. As a result, FY22 was already going to be a tough budget year for the Navy. With the prospect of a full-year CR, Gumbleton said the Navy is facing an O&M deficit of $1.8 billion, while the Marine Corps is facing a loss of $700 million. The FY21 funding levels are not sufficient to cover expected FY22 operating costs.
Additionally, the Navy would be short about $2 billion in its personnel accounts, so “in a yearlong CR we would have to cut people, cut sailors, cut Marines to pay the bills, to pay the salaries.”
The total amount of money that would be misaligned – available to the Navy and Marines to spend on things they no longer wish to buy and not available for current spending needs – would equal about $14 billion, which Gumbleton called “a staggering amount of money.”
“A yearlong CR is the worst possible scenario,” he added.
It’s a distinct possibility, though.
John Lucio, a professional staff member on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, said during the panel discussion that “the signals are there” for a year-long continuing resolution.
“Anything can happen, but we received the budget late, a couple months late; we don’t really see a [five-year Future Years Defense Program, which is typically submitted with each budget request]; we’ve got a top line problem; we’re dealing with some of the divestment issues,” he said. “So there’s lots of signals that we certainly aren’t going to get this done on time, but it may be an extended period of time.”
“All systems would say that maybe an early spring, mid-spring, maybe even year-long isn’t really out of the question,” he said.
Lucio said some of the problem stems from a disagreement over the total defense spending top line. The Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, added $25 billion to the Pentagon’s proposed spending plan.
There are also disagreements over how to spend the money the Navy is allotted.
Gumbleton said the Navy in previous budget turndowns prioritized fleet size at the expense of readiness.
When sequestration forced lower budgets a decade ago, “what the Department of the Navy did was maintain their ship procurement at the expense of readiness, and then what we saw was aviation readiness go through a bathtub, we saw … ships not coming out of the yard on time.”
Now, he added, “with forethought of recognizing where the threat is potentially in the future, and also recognizing that there’s no higher priority than the Columbia-class submarine ... the [chief of naval operations] and leadership of both the Navy and Marine Corps made some hard choices, which was ruthless prioritization of, number one, readiness, ready to fight tonight.”
With readiness the top priority in FY22 and modernization to develop future weapons a second-tier priority, Gumbleton said the Navy “took our risk” in fleet size.
Part of that funding profile requires decommissioning seven cruisers, which are increasingly costly and difficult to maintain and, in some cases, don’t field the most up-to-date warfighting systems. Some lawmakers, however, have pushed back.
“The reality is Congress gets a vote in this too, and it may not always go the Navy’s way, but I do think there are certain obligations that if we decide to not allow divestments or decommissionings then we’ve got to figure out a way to be able to support the O&M costs to maintain those platforms,” Lucio said.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.