By JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON — US House members are worried about the impact of sequestration cuts and the scheduled end of some major weapon buys, warning the dual hit could damage the defense industrial base.
The lower chamber’s version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed May 22, contains a provision that raises concerns that the across-the-board defense budget cuts “will reduce procurement spending over the next several years, leaving some sectors of the national technical and industrial base with a limited number of viable suppliers,” states a report accompanying the legislation.
The House report says the scheduled end of some major weapon programs coupled with sequestration, “could result in continued financial losses to several high-risk sectors, which could force consolidations, decisions to forgo defense contracts, and facility closures.”
Lawmakers are worried about each issue because major Pentagon programs typically spread work across many facilities in many states, meaning a long list of lawmakers could have a stake in any given weapon system or company.
The legislation “directs” the defense secretary to “examine the impacts of such budget reductions as part of the department’s sector-by-sector, tier-by-tier review of the defense industrial base,” states the House report.
If the provision is included in the final version of the NDAA, it would require Pentagon officials to brief the four congressional defense committees with an “analysis of sectors and tiers of the private industrial base found to be at highest risk and how the risk assessment has changed since enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.”
The former created sequestration and the latter initially softened the effect of the cuts for two years but also extended the spending caps two years into the next decade.
The proposed briefing also would have to cover which other sectors and tiers of the industrial base “might be considered high risk as a result of those [laws]; and steps necessary to protect those high risk sectors and tiers.”
The hawkish House Armed Services Committee, which crafted the bill and the report, is concerned that cuts of around $45 billion annually to an annual budget expected to again approach $550 billion in a few years will erode the military’s readiness and lethality, while also weakening the industrial base.
But some experts shoot back that US defense spending is historically high, and that there is ample work for arms makers.
For instance, a recent report released by Third Way, a Washington think tank, states the Obama administration’s 2015 defense request “provides a robust level of military spending — less than wartime peaks but still more than President Reagan’s highest defense budget in real terms.”