WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2020 budget request will include $545 billion in base defense spending, $164 billion in overseas contingency operations funding, and $9 billion in “emergency funding” that could be used to cover funding gaps in military construction that result from President Donald Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to fund a wall at the southern border.
Sources with direct knowledge of the budget request told Defense News said the president’s budget request also will include an increase in research and development funds as well as a dip in funding for the European Deterrence Initiative, a program that bolsters the U.S. presence in Europe for security purposes.
The overall national security budget is expected to be around $750 billion dollars, of which the Department of Defense will make up $718 billion.
The top line budget figures are expected to be released March 11 as part of the government-wide unveiling of the president’s FY20 budget request. More specific numbers for the Department of Defense are scheduled to be released March 12; however, numbers for the Future Years Defense Program and detailed breakdowns of individual programs are not expected to be available until March 18, when the department-wide justification books are released.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has repeatedly referred to the fiscal 2020 budget as the “masterpiece” document and that it has been shaped by the conclusions drawn from a series of long-term strategies including the National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review.
Sources said the overseas funding is split between $66 billion in traditional OCO dollars for warfighting needs and $98 billion in OCO-for-base funds — essentially, money that could be in the base budget but is classified as OCO for the purpose of skirting statutory budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act.
While Congress and the Pentagon have relied on such funding as a work-around for the budget caps in the past, the sheer size of the pot ― roughly $100 billion more than the department requested in FY19 ― likely will meet resistance on the Hill.
Of the $9 billion in emergency funds, the Pentagon had planned to use roughly $2 billion to handle repairs and assistance needed in the wake of a series of major weather events that hit the United States in the last year. One source, however, says that number is expected to climb.
The rest of the roughly $7 billion is focused on needed military construction efforts, which is where the budget becomes entangled with the border issue. The Pentagon has been tasked to move $2.5 billion into a counter-drug fund that Trump wants to use to build a border wall, with much of that expected to come from military construction projects.
However, lawmakers have expressed concern about how Trump is going to get that funding, essentially by taking money already appropriated by Congress for programs, diverting that to the wall, and then telling DoD to request additional money.
“We’re given the authority to appropriate, and the president is saying, essentially: I don’t like what you’ve appropriated, I’ll just take the money and move it elsewhere,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., said this week. “We’re setting up for a constitutional issue of significant importance.”
Research and development up, Europe down
One source confirmed to Defense News a Bloomberg report that said research and development funding in the FY20 budget will be at $104 billion, a roughly $9 billion increase over current year levels. That increase will largely go towards accelerating development of hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence programs and space-based technologies.
In a subscriber email, Roman Schweizer of Cowen Washington Research Group said that expected increase is tied to the National Defense Strategy towards great power competition and predicted that Congress may look to boost those funds over DoD requested levels, given past trends from the Hill.
Meanwhile, president’s budget request will include a drop in the European Deterrence Initiative “moderately lower” than its previous enacted levels of $6.3 billion, per the source. The EDI is a fund set up in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory in 2014 to increase America’s presence in the region; the majority of the funding goes to Army programs, such as rotational brigades and military exercises.
The EDI had grown dramatically in the first two years of the Trump administration. However, any cut will be unwelcome news for European nations who have looked to the EDI as hard proof that the Pentagon remains committed to its longstanding military relationships in Europe, despite sometimes heated rhetoric from the White House.
The news follows a March 8 report that the White House is seriously considering requiring any nation that houses U.S. troops to cover all costs, as well as pay a 50 percent premium for the pleasure of having American military forces on its soil.
Last week, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, both head of U.S. European Command and the NATO Supreme Allied Commander-Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it will take more armored units and U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers, carrier strike groups and amphibious strike groups to stay ahead of Russia’s growing and modernizing forces.
Joe Gould in Washington contributed to this story.
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.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.