Hale: Budget Request ‘Not a Get-well Plan’ for Current Ills
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 10, 2013 The $526.6 billion fiscal year 2014 defense budget request President Barack Obama announced today as part of his overall budget proposal is “not a get-well plan” for the readiness ills the Defense Department is experiencing, the Pentagon’s chief financial officer said today.
Robert F. Hale, DOD comptroller and CFO, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay, the Joint Staff’s director of force structure, resources and assessment, detailed the fiscal 2014 budget request for Pentagon reporters today after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the request.
“The broad theme of this budget is that we want to implement and deepen the program alignment to this defense strategy that the president announced a little more than a year ago in January 2012, but we recognize that we are presenting this budget in a period of great uncertainty,” Hale said.
He pointed out that across-the-board program cuts caused by sequestration, coupled with shortfalls in overseas contingency funds brought on by high operations tempo and increased transportation costs, leave the department facing a funding gap of up to $50 billion over the rest of this fiscal year, which runs through September.
Hiring freezes, major cutbacks in training and maintenance, civilian furloughs and other measures will get the department through this year, he said, but will cause lingering uncertainty into 2014 and beyond.
“I can’t believe how many things we’re trying to do right now,” Hale said. “We’re trying to re-plan [fiscal 2013 spending] for a second time -- because [Congress] just passed, thankfully, the appropriation bill -- trying to roll out ’14, trying to work through a major reprogramming that will help us manage in ’13.”
The comptroller said this convergence of issues has left the financial community and others “flat-out stressed.”
“We have not done detailed planning yet in terms of a get-well plan and what will be required,” Hale said.
Defense leaders do know they’d like to reduce infrastructure through base realignment and closure, consolidate underused medical facilities and reduce the associated civilian workforce in the “out years” of fiscal 2015-2018, he said.
Ramsay described measures the services have taken to meet current funding pressures. The Army has cancelled seven combat training center rotations and five brigade-level exercises, he said, while the Air Force announced this week they will stand down 12 combat-coded fighter and bomber squadrons -- eight immediately and four more once they've returned from overseas deployment.
The Navy in January announced it was postponing deploying the USS Harry S. Truman carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf, and recently curtailed cruises for five ships, including the USS Comfort. The service also is beginning to reduce steaming days and flying hours across the Navy and Marine Corps, the general said.
“What we've had to do, beginning a few months ago, is to start to burn readiness,” Ramsay said. “We're not adding readiness or maintaining readiness. We're burning readiness.”
Hale said the 2014 budget request demonstrates defense leaders’ desire to be good stewards of Americans’ tax dollars while deepening the alignment of programs and strategy.
“We seek a ready force, and I use that word advisedly, because I don't think we can say we're going to maintain it, given what's going on in '13, but we seek it,” Hale said. “We would like people to remain central to this budget, although we understand sequestration will affect that, too. And, finally, we need to fully fund a responsible drawdown in Afghanistan.”