Navy chief: Stopgap spending is like trying to win Super Bowl by playing three quarters of game

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The U.S. Navy’s top admiral on Thursday used the upcoming Super Bowl to make his case that dysfunction in Congress has hampered his ability to provide the country with a fully functioning fleet.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson was describing how the Navy has coped with stopgap spending, with measures including not planning anything important in the first quarter of the fiscal year.

“We’re coming up on Super Bowl week, and I know everybody in the room has a position on that competition. But in competition that’s that close, you can’t expect a team to win if they only play three quarters out of four,” Richardson told an audience at the Heritage Foundation. “That’s kind of what our fiscal environment is asking us to do in many ways.”

Richardson was speaking on “The Navy the Nation Needs,” in which he laid out six elements he sees as integral to naval power.

In Richardson’s view, the Navy needs to have more ships, the ships need to be better, the fleet needs to be more networked, sailors need to be more talented, the fleet needs to be more agile and the Navy needs to be more ready.

But in the backdrop of those goals is the ongoing budget fight in Congress. Lawmakers have yet to pass full-year appropriations for fiscal year 2018, despite a quarter of the year passing and the fiscal 2019 budget proposal on the horizon.

The current continuing resolution (CR) expires Feb. 8, and another CR is expected afterward.

As the budget fight drags on, Pentagon and military officials have issued increasingly stern warnings about the effects to the force.

On Thursday, Richardson said the six dimensions he outlined have to contend with a budget environment that has seen CRs in 13 of the last 18 months, as well as a government shutdown.

“Working through this squanders the most precious resource, which is time,” he said. “We’re spending time managing through this churn rather than getting on with the strategic direction we need to maintain.”

While “the system has adapted” because the last nine fiscal years have started with CRs, Richardson said, he “wouldn’t say in completely healthy ways.”

“You can do some things, particularly with multiyear money, but we have to have this dialogue with Congress and make sure that we just have a meaningful discussion about this so that nobody’s surprised,” he said.

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