Pragmatism instead of politics must drive funding for Defense

The Defense Department is charged with maintaining our military’s unequaled ability to respond to a wide range of national security scenarios. Accomplishing this immense and complex task in an efficient and cost-effective manner requires deliberative forethought, prudent planning and reliable funding streams. As our military continues to wage combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and conduct other significant operations, such as those being performed in connection with the crisis in Libya and disaster relief efforts in Japan, it is incumbent upon the Congress to provide the Department of Defense with fiscal stability by passing an appropriations bill. 

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Secretary Robert Gates has stated that the fiscal 2011 funding situation has already generated serious difficulties, and it continues to present “a crisis at our doorstep” because those difficulties will only multiply in number and increase in magnitude as time passes. As it stands, one-half of the current fiscal year has elapsed without regular appropriations. According to the department, the resulting uncertainties have fostered operational limitations, inefficiencies, programmatic disruptions and unbudgeted costs. The department has reported that, due to funding restrictions, it has been precluded from issuing contracts for more than 50 major military construction projects and for procuring important weapons systems, including a new Virginia-class submarine and a variety of military helicopters. The department is also opting for short-term contracting solutions to maximize available funding and to preserve operational flexibility, but these actions are inherently inefficient and they will incur higher costs for the services that are received. Again, these discrepancies and their cumulative costs will only grow over time.

If current funding levels should be continued through the remainder of the fiscal year, it would effectuate a base budget reduction of $22 billion below the $548 billion authorized by Congress. According to a letter from Secretary Gates to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, dated Feb. 10, specific adverse effects of such a reduction could include:

 • A negative impact on training and readiness as a result of: reduced funding for three brigade combat teams returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, a reduction in Navy steaming days and training exercises, and fewer Air Force and Navy flight hours; 

• Prohibitions on new program starts and limitations on production rates for existing acquisition programs, such as the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle program;

• An increased reliance on contractual agreements and practices that are wasteful and more expensive to the taxpayer;

• Deferrals in equipment maintenance schedules, which would adversely affect unit readiness and create a future maintenance backlog; 

• Curtailments in sustaining facilities, restoration and maintenance efforts and base operations, which could undermine readiness and reduce quality-of-life standards for service personnel; and

• A civilian hiring freeze, which would hinder service support to military units.

Challenges to the Department of Defense would also be compounded should other facets of the federal government receive less than adequate funding. Limitations on important diplomatic, reconstructive, developmental, law enforcement and public-health-related efforts — efforts that the Defense Department cannot shoulder alone — would only weaken national security.

I understand that our country faces economic challenges and that there are distinct differences of opinion as to how the Congress should responsibly address significant budgetary pressures. However, spending defense dollars wisely involves budgeting to an effective military strategy, rather than strategizing to arbitrary budgetary restrictions. Reductions in spending should not be divorced from thorough, pragmatic policy evaluations. 

The limitations forced on the Department of Defense due to legislative events are not founded on national security policy objectives. They are the products of politics. It is time to put divisive politics aside and pass an appropriations bill that appropriately funds the federal government. Our service men and women deserve it.

Smith is ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.