WASHINGTON — In a process reminiscent of what you might see on the TV show “Shark Tank," U.S. Army leaders have been able to shift more than $31 billion in the Army’s budget to its top priorities, according to Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
The official shed light on the budget deliberations during a Feb. 26 breakfast sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare.
“You went in there and tried to explain your program to the leadership, and if it didn’t survive contact, it was out,” McCarthy told the crowd, adding that he co-led a panel of Army senior leaders — alongside Army Secretary Mark Esper, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville — as part of a “principals only” series of discussions to reform the Army’s budget.
“We invested about just north of 60 hours for the entire senior leadership team," he said, noting that the team ran through every program in the budget.
So what did that process get the Army? McCarthy called it a radical transformation, saying it found more than $31 billion to realign with the service’s six top priorities, which are long-range precision fires, future vertical lift, next-generation combat vehicles, air and missile defense, the network, and soldier lethality.
Of that $31 billion, McCarthy told reporters more than $8 billion shifted will mean cuts to the costs of existing programs over the next five years, while the remaining $22 billion shifted means cuts to some programs and the termination of others. But because the fiscal 2020 defense budget has yet to be released, he wouldn’t comment on what specific programs were cut. He did note the budget rollout is set for March 12, after having been pushed back from early February.
“All six of the Army priorities will have vast increases. And you’ll see a sustained push. We made hard choices inside of our budget,” McCarthy said. “We wanted to do that so we can protect them in the out years if it’s a flat fiscal environment.”
He also told reporters that the service is communicating with industry about budgetary changes, adding that working with industry is better than “blindsiding” companies. “You work with companies, and they’ll adjust. But it’s when you blindside them on a budget drop day, that’s very different,” he said.
The undersecretary also acknowledged the need to explain its decisions to Congress, and that the service is prepared for pushback from lawmakers.
“If a company in your particular state or district is impacted, there’s also immense opportunity that will present itself as we proceed on the future year defense plan,” he said.
But the process described by McCarthy isn’t unique. As the Army works through the FY21 budget request, Assistant Secretary of the Army Bruce Jette and Army Futures Command leader Gen. Mike Murray will lead a similar process — a more “sophisticated” one, according to McCarthy.
“It’s a way to institutionalize this behavior,” he said. “They’re trying to change the fundamental behavior of the Army to do better with every dollar we spend.”
Jeff Martin is the Associate Editor for Multimedia and the host & producer of Defense News Weekly, airing online and on American Forces Network worldwide. In his role as Associate Editor, he reports worldwide on the military and defense industry and leads a market-leading multimedia team.