Pentagon brass see delays, higher costs with CR funds

Senior Pentagon officials and senators on Tuesday warned that the Defense Department will pay more for some hardware and services because Congress has failed to pass a 2011 spending bill.

Without a full appropriations bill, the military services also would be forced to put off maintenance on platforms already strained by years of combat, delay buying new systems and skip some training, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said.

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The Navy already has been unable to award contracts for long-planned work on new submarines and destroyers. The Air Force, without a full bill, will not be able to afford new MQ-9 Reaper unmanned vehicles needed in Afghanistan. And the Army has let go 300 workers at two maintenance facilities because the service cannot afford to repair war-worn Humvees. 

“These are costly [moves] we will want to reverse” as soon as ample funding is provided by Congress, said Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale. “But we won’t ... at the same cost.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) pressed Lynn and Hale about concerns that defense acquisition program costs would swell if DoD is funded at 2010 levels for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

Pentagon officials have said 2010 funding levels would force them to alter weapons program plans because of a lack of funds for some major efforts. Collins said she worries that program managers will be left unable to “plan work in an efficient way,” driving up costs.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) also sounded alarms about the department deferring work, adding a full 2011 CR would restrict officials’ ability to shift monies between military accounts. 

Lynn and Hale told the panel they expect Congress would have to provide it legislative flexibility to reprogram funds allotted under a CR.

“The friction” of not having the kind of budget flexibility afforded in a regular appropriations bill “costs the taxpayer,” Lynn told Reed. That’s because contracts are not awarded and work is stopped or delayed — forcing costly program delays.

Congress has yet to pass a full defense spending measure for 2011, managing so far only a continuing resolution that expires March 4. The House has passed a yearlong CR that contains a $526 billion defense bill, $14 billion under what defense leaders say is sufficient.

House and Senate lawmakers are in the midst of a largely rhetorical dance — so far — about a temporary CR that would keep the federal government operating for several more weeks while congressional leaders search for a compromise.

“We’re in talks” with the lower chamber, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee chairman, told reporters Tuesday. The House has floated a two-week extension to the current CR, but Inouye said he would support a bill that keeps the government open “for a few more weeks.”

It still seems likely the House-passed CR for all of 2011 would be dead on arrival in the Senate.

Asked whether the Senate likely would support the House-passed defense appropriations bill, Inouye grinned and told The Hill: “Well, we’ll have to look at it first.”

In the meantime, the DoD leaders’ message Tuesday was clear: Give the Pentagon a full 2011 appropriations bill because, as Lynn told the committee, “a yearlong CR will damage national security.” 

The military services are prepared to cut costs by slashing flight hours for Air Force pilots by 10 percent, canceling naval exercises and not putting some Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) through certain kinds of training when they return from Afghanistan “when these units will need it most,” Lynn told the Senate Appropriations Defense panel.

“All of these cuts would have a significant impact on readiness,” the deputy Defense secretary said, using Pentagon parlance for troops’ preparedness for military operations.

The officials assured the panel they would find ways to fund military healthcare and other personnel programs, even if the department is funded at 2010 levels for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

But to fund these and other essential programs, “we would be forced to play a shell game, robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Lynn said, largely by raiding hardware accounts.

And that, he told the panel, “would exacerbate the detrimental effects I have … described to our readiness, modernization and business practices.”

Collins said she has written Senate leaders this week urging them to bring a full 2011 defense spending bill to the chamber floor immediately.