By Laicie Heeley
The President’s fiscal year 2014 defense request contains a “placeholder” for war funding, but in fact, the entire budget request itself should be considered a placeholder given its timing and disregard for current law requiring reductions as part of the budget sequester. To meet sequestration requirements, the President would have to propose an additional $52 billion in savings for fiscal year 2014.
The Obama administration has requested a base budget of $526.6 billion for fiscal year 2014. This represents a mere $900 million decrease, or just under two tenths of a percentage point from the FY13 base budget approved by Congress prior to sequestration.
Additionally, the administration has requested $88.5 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), to continue to fight the war in Afghanistan. However, the administration has noted that the number is only a placeholder pending a determination of troop levels, after which a final war request will be submitted.
These numbers do not include other forms of defense spending. In addition to an initial $615.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and the war in Afghanistan, the Administration has requested approximately $18 billion for nuclear weapons activities at Department of Energy and $7.4 billion for additional non-Pentagon defense related activities.
This brings total Pentagon defense related spending to approximately $640.5 billion, a nominal increase of $1.4 billion above the FY13 enacted level.
While the budget does contain some small reductions, the overall number presents little of the extreme fiscal austerity that Pentagon officials have warned about. Additionally, this approach would seem to be in stark contrast to a recent speech given by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the National Defense University in which the new secretary proposed changes to adapt the Pentagon both to more constrained resources, and to a 21st century threat landscape.
In his first major policy address, Secretary Hagel called for reshaping Pentagon strategy and budgets to meet future challenges. Hagel made clear his belief that by taking a closer look at the way our military is run, we can develop a stronger, safer strategy for the future. “I want to focus on challenges, choices and opportunities,” said Hagel, “the challenges posed by a changing strategic landscape and new budget constraints; the choices we have in responding to these challenges, and the opportunities that exist to fundamentally reshape the defense enterprise to better reflect 21st century realities.”
This discrepancy between Hagel’s stated strategy and the President’s budget proposal highlights the Pentagon’s continued inability to match resources to strategy. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end and an inevitable draw down begins to take hold, this lack of planning will leave the Pentagon unprepared for the highest priority threats.
The changing nature of the current threat environment, in which unmanned drones and cyber attacks take precedence over nuclear weapons and heavy conventional weapons, will demand that the military create an agile and adaptable force that is better suited to 21st century threats.
Hagel said it himself, “Our military must continue to adapt in order to remain effective and relevant in the face of threats markedly different than those that shaped our defense institutions during the Cold War.” It is time to begin to accept the realities of today so that the Pentagon can begin to move toward the future.