Pentagon sends White House detailed list of budget priorities threatened by Capitol Hill stalemate

September 11, 2017

By Tony Bertuca

The Defense Department last month sent the White House a detailed list of acquisition program priorities it had hoped to fund at the beginning of fiscal year 2018 in the event Congress passed a stopgap budget measure restricting spending levels and prohibiting new programs, according to documents obtained by Inside Defense.

Now that Congress has approved the 10-week stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution, the Pentagon must sort out to what degree important programs will be impacted.

The documents obtained by Inside Defense were sent as a "consolidated anomalies list" and represent prioritized programs the Pentagon unsuccessfully sought to exempt from CR restrictions, which lock FY-18 government spending at FY-17 levels and prohibit the start of new programs.

Along with a list of prioritized weapon production increases, the Pentagon also sent the White House Office of Management and Budget a list of approximately 75 significant new-start programs that would be unable to begin in the event of a CR.

The list the Pentagon sent OMB sought anomaly-status for, among other programs, the Navy's Columbia-class submarine, for which the service had planned an advanced procurement production increase costing $843 million. The Navy also sought an anomaly for a nearly $2 billion advanced procurement production increase for its Virginia-class submarine program. The documents state that DOD needs the funding by Oct. 1, the beginning of FY-18.

The list also contains other planned production increases for which DOD sought exemption, though the deadlines for required funding vary.

The current CR expires Dec. 8 and would threaten several procurement programs on the list including: the Small Diameter Bomb ($60 million), B-61 ammunition ($88 million), the Common Infrared Countermeasure ($140 million), the Advanced Tactical Parachute System ($32 million), B-2 squadron, B-61-12 Integration Capability Improvement ($27 million) and others. Other programs are listed as priorities, but don't require funding until later dates, such as the Army's Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System ($787 million), which needs to be funded by March 15, 2018, at the latest to avoid adverse impacts.

Sources on Capitol Hill predict DOD will seek to address gaps created by the CR by sending Congress a "minibus" reprogramming request, along with an FY-18 budget amendment seeking additional funds for missile defense and other areas. It also remains to be seen how much the department will request to fund President Trump's new Afghanistan strategy, which, according to reports could require fielding as many as 4,000 additional U.S. troops.

Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Command's Dry Combat Submersible program ($46 million), which requires funding by Nov. 1, was listed as one of the key new starts delayed by the CR.

"United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) requests a fiscal year 2018 (FY18) New Start Anomaly for the procurement of the second Dry Combat Submersible (DCS)," the documents state. "Approval of the anomaly request is crucial because any delay in commencing DCS 2 construction directly delays delivery of this submersible to the fleet, which severely limits the ability to conduct theater and national level missions with only one DCS fielded."

Several senior GOP lawmakers who have been pushing for defense spending above the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act were disappointed that DOD did not submit a list of CR anomalies to Congress, according to Republican staffers.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said he voted against the CR measure, citing national security concerns.

"This bill, like other CRs, allows no new starts -- the Pentagon must spend the same money on the same things as last year," he said. "But the world is not standing still. In fact, the threats from North Korea and others grow every day. Yet, this CR prevents us from responding."

Days prior, Thornberry said he hoped the administration would work with Congress to seek additional money for some DOD priorities under a CR, especially for missile defense. Nothing ever materialized.

In a statement to Inside Defense, Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood said: "The department submitted its list of anomalies to OMB who compiles all the federal agencies anomalies and submits to Congress." He also provided a "list of anomalies OMB submitted for the FY-18 CR," which detailed expiring authorizations.

Mark Cancian, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who previously served as an OMB official, said it was unsurprising the White House did not bless DOD's list of requested anomalies.

“OMB hates policy anomalies and, I suspect, forbade any,” he said. "OMB routinely denies anomalies is to put more pressure on the system to reach a budget agreement. A CR with too many anomalies starts looking like an appropriations bill and takes the pressure off."