Continuing resolutions hurt national security and imperil our future

Congress should no longer accept passing stop-gap funding measures, which hold hostage the nation’s security and federal responsibilities, as good enough. Neither should we. Instead, each member of Congress should aggressively take responsibility and insist on the enactment of annual appropriations as their fundamental duty to harness all the buying power entrusted to them by the taxpayer.

One of the foundational responsibilities of our elected members of Congress is to raise and provide public money and oversee its proper expenditure. Yet increasing acrimony and divisiveness has led to inaction on the key task of enacting annual appropriations. Instead of our representatives applying tax dollars to the nation’s challenges, the most essential one being security, we routinely experience threats of destructive government shutdowns, actual full or partial shutdowns, or continuing resolutions (CRs). CRs essentially extend last year’s funding and priorities into the new year to avoid a lapse in appropriations and government shutdown when Congress can’t reach agreement on regular annual spending.

The entire government is under such a continuing resolution again now. Regardless of how “clean” the CR, or how many exceptions or anomalies it includes, or even how long it lasts, it is a failure to represent the American taxpayer or serve the nation’s security. When the current CR ends on December 11, the nation will have lost 1261 days – close to three and a half years – of the last 11 years in stagnating, destructive CRs and government shutdowns rather than advancing national security and defense competitiveness. This time is lost. It can’t be recovered, regardless of when final annual appropriations are enacted. 

I have witnessed first-hand the myriad strategic, operational and tactical impacts of continuing resolutions and government shutdowns, most recently as the acting Department of Defense comptroller/CFO and previously from the perspective of a combatant command.

Continuing resolutions result in lost opportunities for advancing U.S. military competitiveness, the outcome of which is cascading risk to the country and those who serve it. CRs block new programs designed to confront critical threats and challenges, stall industry initiatives, and place troops at greater risk, a risk that is sometimes not visible until it is too late.

Some argue that CRs are a way to save money. They are not. Time and money are lost during CRs, which inherently reduce the federal government’s ability to be a smart customer, get the most from its buying power and provide stability to its workforce, depots, shipyards, industrial base and international partners. 

For example, if Congress does not enact regular appropriations, the Defense Department could lose a year and $100M by not procuring the planned second space vehicle critical for regional defense, something a CR does not allow. The CR would also delay investments in research and the workforce necessary to enable the U.S. to regain its leadership in establishing upcoming wireless technology standards for secure military applications. Under the CR, nine Guam military construction projects could be delayed, disrupting the movement of Marines from Okinawa as part of the rebalancing effort in the Pacific.

In addition to serving as a reliable employer with an unparalleled mission, the department has significant ties in local communities around the country through its installations, ranges and training areas. CRs impact the workforce – Americans already dealing with the uncertainty and consequences of the pandemic – in all these areas. CRs negatively impact locations where Defense Department workers live, operate and develop new capabilities. 

National security unites us. The National Defense Strategy (NDS), which emphasizes the importance of restored competitiveness against China, is widely acknowledged as an imperative for the country. The recent China Task Force further emphasized the NDS focus, stating that China is the “greatest national and economic security challenge of this generation.” The use of CRs prevents us from allocating the correct resources to counter the national security challenges before us.

There is an opportunity after the November election for our elected officials to emphasize common ground like national security and to carry out the foundational responsibility of enacting annual appropriations. Only after doing so should they set their sights on a robust, civil debate of the nation’s key issues.

Elaine McCusker is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She is a former acting under secretary of defense (comptroller).

Tags continuing resolution Continuing resolution Government shutdowns in the United States

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