Pentagon faces 'severe problems' without defense spending bill

A senior Pentagon official on Wednesday pleaded with lawmakers to pass a 2011 defense appropriations measure, saying failure to do so would “cause severe problems.”

Congress last year failed to pass a Pentagon appropriations bill, managing only to approve a continuing resolution (CR) for the entire federal government that runs through March 4. That means, for at least a few more weeks, the Defense Department is operating at its fiscal 2010 budget level of around $530 billion.

“Unfortunately, if the Congress leaves the [Defense] Department on a year-long continuing resolution for FY-2011 at reduced funding levels, we will likely see a drop in both effectiveness and efficiency this year,” Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn told the House Armed Services Committee.

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Defense appropriators in the House and Senate proposed cutting the White House’s 2011 defense spending request by $7 billion and $8 billion, respectively.

Pentagon officials favor a cut of that size to a larger one — possibly an $18 billion reduction, sources say — that has reportedly been considered for inclusion into a CR to fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2011.

“Operating under the significantly reduced funding level now being debated would cause severe problems, likely requiring us to curtail critical activities needed to support our troops and carry out our national security mission,” Lynn said. “A year-long CR would also rob us of the flexibility needed to meet war-fighter needs.”

Pentagon officials say the lack of a true defense appropriations bill would hinder their ability to do things such as execute hardware program plans and award contracts.

For instance, the lack of a 2011 defense spending measure could impact the Marine Corps’s plans to launch a program to secure an amphibious vehicle to replace its Expeditionary Fighter Vehicle (EFW) program. The Pentagon calls the EFV program too expensive, and is proposing to end it and pursue a cheaper craft.

Assistant Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford told The Hill during a break in a HASC hearing that it remains unclear whether the Marine Corps's 2012 spending blueprint will include funds for the new program.

“That depends,” Dunford said, “on what Congress does for 2011.”