Top uniformed leaders of all the services urged Congress to waive the use-it-or-lose-it rules and allow them to roll over some of the increased funding slated for fiscal 2018 into 2019.
The leaders welcomed the two-year budget deal authorized by Congress early February 2018 to give the Defense Department nearly $700 billion for fiscal 2018 and $716 billion for fiscal 2019, but they said it also left them in a bind.
Because of Congress’ previous failures to reach a budget agreement for fiscal 2018, which began Oct. 1, the military has been operating at 2017 spending levels under a series of continuing resolutions. The latest CR, which expires March 23, 2018 was enacted to allow the 12 appropriations committees more time to direct the funding of the two-year budget deal.
And there’s the problem, according to Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters, who testified along with leaders of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Walters told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness and management support Feb. 14, 2018 that by the time the budget agreement was solidified, the military would have only about five months to spend the fiscal 2018 funds before fiscal 2019 begins Oct. 1.
Under current rules, money not spent by government agencies before the end of the fiscal year goes back to the Treasury.
“As you noted, we have a year’s worth of money adds in ’18 and five months to spend it,” Walters told the hearing. “It might help if the appropriators can give us some flexibility, so we can spend ’18 money in ’19 and feather in the plan” to improve readiness under a program ordered up by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran agreed.
“We’d like to have authorities to move funding around as we go, and inform Congress as we’re doing it,” he said.
Moran said the boost in funding is “so significant that we’re going to have to look at transferring that money from account to account.”
Further reading: Everything you need to know about Trump’s 2019 budget
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said the Army would be forced into a potentially risky rush to execute contracts unless Congress eases the time limit.
“We don’t get the same type of rigor we would like to get if we had it sooner,” he said of the funding. “Certainly, we appreciate the authorizations for readiness. We just need to get it in the hands of our units so they can spend it.”
On the House side, the leadership is already moving to grant the services more time to spend the money.
Early February 2018, Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he had met with top appropriators “about making sure no artificial limitation Congress proposes prevents the Pentagon from spending money.”