Much has been made of the fact that the new spending bill passed by Congress this past month has given the Defense Department both $10 billion additional dollars to help alleviate the shortfalls in its operations and maintenance accounts and greater flexibility than the previous Continuing Resolution in terms of where it can spend its appropriated dollars. More money and more flexibility to make sounder investment decisions … who could argue against that?
Obviously, it is a plus. But as yesterday’s press conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey made clear, it’s essentially a Band-Aid for what amounts to a bleeding artery. The Pentagon must still cut $41 billion this year from its budget; it remains over $20 billion short on readiness and operational funds; it is facing a shortfall of some $7 billion in monies needed for the drawdown in Afghanistan; and it has already used up 80% of its operating funds for the year with six months still to go.
In his usual, can-do way, General Dempsey said the military can still make all this work as long as the military could shed excess equipment, dump excess facilities, get acquisition reforms in place, reduce redundancy, and overhaul the military’s compensation structure. Well, good luck on all those fronts. More likely, as we say, when pigs fly.
In the meantime, training is being radically reduced, maintenance across the services is being postponed, exercises are being cancelled, and the prospect of even deeper cuts to force structure and modernization plans await if the Budget Control Act’s sequester requirements are not rolled back by this fall.