Navy chief: On scale of 1 to 10, adequate funding 'scores an 11'

Navy chief: On scale of 1 to 10, adequate funding 'scores an 11'
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Navy leaders implored lawmakers Thursday to pass stable funding as they testified on their efforts to improve the service after two fatal ship collisions — a plea made as a government shutdown appears increasingly possible.

“The most important step that you could take now that would help us restore the health of the Navy is to give us stable and adequate funding,” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told a joint House Armed Services subcommittee hearing. “We must be able to count on reliable resourcing to operate safely and efficiently.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson echoed Spencer.

“I can’t in good conscience testify before Congress about naval power without mentioning the toxic and corrosive effect of nine years of continuing resolutions and years under the Budget Control Act,” Richardson said. “We are getting after the work we have to do, but the absence of stable and adequate funding for defense makes everything, everything that our sailors and their commanders do harder. On a scale of 1-10, the importance of stable and adequate funding scores an 11.”

Spencer and Richardson were testifying on how they are carrying out recommendations made in two reviews after the separate summer collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, which together killed 17 sailors.

Military leaders have long pleaded for more reliable funding, but Spencer and Richardson’s comments Thursday were overshadowed by the backdrop of lawmakers outside the hearing room scrambling to avert a shutdown.

As they were testifying, Senate Democrats said they have enough votes to block the passage of a House GOP short-term spending measure, increasing doubt that Congress will be able to keep the government open when funding runs out Friday night.

Even if a deal is reached before the shutdown deadline, Congress would be passing a continuing resolution (CR), which military leaders have long said are damaging and get more destructive the longer they drag on. The CR under consideration now would go to February, the fifth month of the fiscal year.

Prior to the hearing, Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanVirginia Port: Gateway to the economic growth Republican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland MORE (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and projection forces that is co-hosting the hearing, called Congress’s budget fights a “contributory factor” to the issues the Navy is facing.

“CRs are tremendously disruptive and problematic in getting the things done we need to get done for our Navy [including] maintaining ships, building readiness through proper training and building new ships to make sure we have capacity there so our Navy doesn’t get stressed in those particular areas,” Wittman, who co-chaired the hearing, told The Hill in an interview Thursday morning.

After the hearing, Wittman, who would not say how he will vote on the CR, told reporters that lawmakers have to make a choice between “a number of very undesirable outcomes.”

Outside of funding, Richardson and Spencer touted several steps the Navy has taken since the Comprehensive Review and the Strategic Readiness Review they ordered after crashes of the Fitzgerald and the McCain.

For example, Richardson said every ship forward deployed in Japan has now been assessed to be ready for their missions. Richardson’s written testimony also highlighted the implementation of circadian rhythm watch bills to manage fatigue, revising formality of procedures for ships approaching within 2 nautical miles and starting monthly assessments on the International Rules of the Road to grade and track watchstanders’ level of knowledge, among others.

Despite issues, Spencer also sought to downplay concerns about capabilities.

“Despite these challenges, I want to assure you — I want to assure you — that the Navy-Marine Corps team is still the most ready, capable and lethal force in our arsenal,” he said. “We know, however, that staying that way means we must seize every opportunity to improve.”