The Pentagon gets a modest boost in the 2021 budget request, while nuclear programs could go up 20 percent. Meanwhile, Congress is warned that foreign aid cuts will lead to more and longer wars
(February 10, 2020) — Medicare, food stamps and other non-defense programs will take a big hit in President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2021 federal spending request being released today. But officials say the Pentagon, as expected, is in line for a relatively small bump. The blueprint will propose $740.5 billion in overall national defense spending, a senior administration official said, in accordance with a budget deal struck last summer.
EXCLUSIVE: Politico‘s Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma nabbed a copy of an agency by agency breakdown of budget totals.
Money for Nukes: Within the national defense topline, which includes weapons spending at the Department of Energy, Trump is set to propose a nearly 20 percent increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration. That’s in keeping with the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s top modernization priority to reinvest in the nation’s nuclear deterrent.
Border Funds: Trump also plans to increase funding for the border wall and “will ask Congress on Monday for an extra $2 billion for border wall construction, in addition to billions in funding hikes for immigration enforcement, a senior administration official told POLITICO on Sunday,” Emma reports.
Unlike last year, the budget request won’t include any Pentagon money for the border wall, the senior administration official said. But the administration also isn’t asking to replenish the $3.6 billion it took from military construction projects last year for the border. And lawmakers did not restrain the administration’s transfer authorities for the current fiscal year, meaning the administration could still shift existing money from Pentagon coffers to the border, as reported last month.
NASA, Veterans Administration also Big Winners: “Among agencies getting a budget boost, the Department of Veterans Affairs would see a 13 percent increase next fiscal year and NASA would see a 12 percent increase to fulfill Trump’s goal of putting astronauts back on the moon by 2024,” Emma reports. The Department of Homeland Security is also set to see a 3 percent boost.
OCO Fades: The new budget proposes $69 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding. But the White House is projecting the war account, which isn’t subject to budget caps and often criticized as a slush fund, to drop to $20 billion in the following two years and then to $10 billion in the remaining years of their projections. A senior administration official said the budgeting reflects Trump’s goal of ending long-running overseas conflicts.
Sticking to the Goal: Despite anticipated cuts to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget next year, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Defense News in an interview that he is “fully committed” to achieving the longstanding goal of a 355-ship fleet. But that means the service must pursue a lighter mix of vessels — including unmanned ships. “What we have to tease out is, what does that future fleet look like?” Esper said. “I think one of the ways you get there quickly is moving toward lightly manned [ships], which over time can be unmanned.”
An Admiral’s Plea: Foreign aid, however, is getting whacked by 21 percent, according to the senior White House official who briefed reporters. That spells big trouble, warns retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is urging congressional leaders not to cut the international affairs budget, bluntly warning of more wars if Washington depends too heavily on military investments and shortchanges civilian efforts to advance American foreign policy aims.
“This is a moment where more investment in diplomacy and development is needed not less,” Mullen writes in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate, which was organized by the US Global Leadership Coalition, a who’s who of former American diplomats and national security leaders dedicated to strengthening “civilian-led” tools.
Mullen cited record numbers of displaced persons, the threat of disease, open-ended conflicts, and the enduring challenge posed by Islamic terrorist groups. “The more we cut the international affairs budget, the higher the risk for longer and deadlier military operations,” he scrawled in a handwritten conclusion.
Budget Increase Counter-arguments. Others view more increases in defense spending as misguided. Bill Hartung and Ben Freeman at the Center for International Policy, for example, are questioning the gospel that threats from Russia and China require greater defense dollars.
“The principal culprit for this overspending isn’t the actual threats we face, it’s the threats foreign policy elites imagine,” they argue in a new piece out in DefenseOne . “The Pentagon’s misguided National Defense Strategy, for example, never met a threat it couldn’t inflate or a challenge it didn’t see as requiring a military solution.”
The Rollout: The Pentagon’s series of budget briefings kicks off today at 1:30 p.m. The full schedule.
Look Here: The Center for Strategic and International Studies is out with a pair of reports on what to watch for in the fiscal 2021 budget request and an analysis of the fiscal 2020 defense budget and its implications for the coming fiscal year and beyond
House and Senate Hearings
On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee hears from experts and former military leaders on the US strategy in Afghanistan. The House Armed Services Committee also holds a hearing with national security experts on “The Department of Defense’s Role in Long-Term Major State Competition.”
On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee hears from acting White House budget director Russ Vought on the administration’s fiscal 2021 budget request.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee meets to hear from former negotiators on the Middle East peace process. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also convenes a hearing with State Department officials on US-Libya policy. HASC’s Readiness Subcommittee holds a hearing with military installations officials on land-based ranges.
On Thursday, Senate Armed Services holds a hearing with the commanders of US Northern Command and Strategic Command, the first commanders to testify on Capitol Hill following the budget release.
Esper last week previewed some of the results of his high-level “Defense-Wide Review” to free up more money in fiscal 2021 to invest in the National Defense Strategy. But the department’s broader cost-cutting efforts are also trying to dig up the Pentagon equivalent of loose change under the couch cushions, left over from previous appropriations.
Lisa Hershman, the Pentagon’s chief management officer, tells Morning Defense she has identified an additional $6.5 billion in “validated savings” by targeting wasteful bureaucracy, with special emphasis on reforming how the department buys certain equipment and commodities. “This time we’re trying to fundamentally change the way we’re doing business,” she said.
Some of the biggest carve-outs from fiscal 2019 spending accounts include a billion dollars from personnel management overhead and nearly $100 million and more than $350 million, respectively, from multi-year contracts for 10 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and fee changes for TRICARE healthcare contracts.
The Pentagon also reaped more than $400 million by auctioning off obsolete helicopters, missiles and aircraft to allies.
Maps, batteries, light bulbs and two-by-fours: Hershman related one anecdote from a meeting with Esper, who asked her “Why are you storing maps?” And she responded, “Why are you ordering that?” The decision to print them on demand has cut the volume in half.
In all, “135 million maps were removed from warehouses,” she said. Other steps include reducing 22 separate contracts across the department for buying lumber supplies of two-by-fours down to “one or two contracts” and acquiring batteries and light bulbs “from the open market.”
“We were able to save the equivalent in warehouse space of five courtyards in the Pentagon,” Hershman boasts. “So it’s consolidation, it’s efficiency, it’s modernization.”
Related: A new poll out from the Pew Research Center indicates most NATO publics view the military alliance favorably, with the exception of Turkey. But there are deep reservations about coming to the aid of a fellow member under attack, it found. “Despite the organization’s largely favorable ratings among member states, there is widespread reluctance to fulfill the collective defense commitment outlined in Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty.”
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