WASHINGTON — With the Pentagon scrambling to meet a surprise order from President Donald Trump to cut the fiscal 2020 budget request from $733 billion to $700 billion, department planners are moving quickly to gather their options.
According to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, the military services will be delivering their preliminary options for cuts to his budget team on Monday. Those will be internally worked at the Office of the Secretary of Defense before being briefed up to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and potentially the White House, the week after Thanksgiving.
“What I want the president to understand when we bring [the budget] forward is, what are those tradeoffs?” Shanahan told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. “Either you get reduced capacity, get lower quantities of procurement, a changed modernization."
“Those are the things that he needs to have. An awareness of what that number really translates to in terms of, you know, performance here at the department,” Shanahan added. “By Monday we’ll have a better feel for which trades the services want to make, whether it’s end strength, or capability or capacity. And then we’ll have to look at, you know, how much we suck up in the discretionary cut for, like, the fourth estate."
The deputy acknowledged modifying “quantities” of things being procured would be one option, but avoided specifics, noting: “I don’t want to say ‘tanks’ and I don’t want to say ‘combat vehicles’ because then everybody who builds one of those thinks that’s something that’s an imminent decision.”
He also said changes to end strength for the services is being considered.
Asked what OSD would seek to protect from cuts, Shanahan emphasized the burgeoning cyber, space and hypersonics. He also said he recently finished a technical review of the Army’s modernization plan and would seek to protect a “number of the priorities” from that document.
The FY20 budget will be the first following the guidance laid out in the National Defense Strategy, as well as having inputs from the Nuclear Posture Review and the as-of-yet unreleased Missile Defense Review. Officials from the department have described the document as being a “strategy-driven budget,” with Shanahan saying late last year that the FY20 request would be the Pentagon’s “masterpiece.”
Asked if he still felt that way, Shanahan smiled and said again: “It’ll be a masterpiece,” even with the smaller-than-expected budget total. “I think in the end we’ll end up in a good spot, but there’s going to be a lot of, you know, back and forth and work,” he added.
However, a recently released report from a congressional panel warned that the Pentagon is under-resourced to be able to carry out the NDS as is, let alone if it takes a bigger cut.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.