WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 24, 2014) – The likelihood of more continuing resolutions is really bad for the Army, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander, director of the Army Budget.
CRs, as they’re called, occur when lawmakers fail to pass a budget and spending levels are kept at previous budget levels. CRs result in a lot of uncertainty for planners, he said. As a result, readiness suffers.
Horlander and other senior Army leaders spoke at the Veteran and Military Service Organization quarterly summit at the Pentagon, Thursday.
The Army can’t suddenly build an effective brigade combat team that hasn’t trained in a while, Horlander said. Once readiness is lost, it takes years for a brigade to recover, as training has “accumulative and dynamic” aspects to it that can easily be lost.
The Army is now waiting to hear from Congress, as it submitted its budget earlier in the year.
“We’re working with the Hill,” Horlander said, describing the current state. Lawmakers are “working on a conferenced version that may or may not pass.
“They know what the Army position is,” he added, meaning that senior leaders have been testifying at numerous House and Senate committees and subcommittees all year and conversing with them on a person-to-person basis explaining their logic and answering questions on numerous occasions.
Besides the CR, the overseas contingency operation budget, usually called OCO, remains problematic, he said. OCO has been used over the years to pay for overseas wars and equipment resets that follow.
Along with the budget, the Army submitted a separate fiscal year 2015 OCO for about $26 billion to Congress. However, as anyone can see from events over the past year, the world can change in unpredictable ways and it’s hard to predict how much OCO money is needed, Horlander said.
“I don’t know if it’s the 80 or 60-percent solution,” he said.
Besides sequestration and CRs, other worries for the Army are compensation and structural reforms that need to be addressed by lawmakers, said Brig. Gen. John Ferrari, director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, who also spoke.
If those reforms are not enacted, “we’ll have to get rid of more Soldiers and do less training” on top of force reductions resulting from sequestration, Ferrari predicted. “It’s that simple.”
Compensation and structural reform involve unpopular things, he said, like decreasing the compensation for retiree health care, lowering or freezing pay raises, and removing subsidies that go to commissaries and making them more like the exchanges.
Those and other costs are lumped into the Army’s baseline budget and when those costs increase — which they always do — it impacts dollars that can be spent on readiness and modernization, he explained.
Ideally, he said, the entitlement money should be taken out of the Army budget altogether. An informed discussion needs to occur among the American public as well as lawmakers, Ferrari said, about the way forward.
“We’re now taking out 20,000 Soldiers a year,” he said. If full sequestration goes into effect next year, that means “400 Soldiers a week” will need to be separated until 2019, when the active force level will have dropped to 420,000.
If the Army can’t get a handle on entitlements, more Soldiers than that will be let go, he added.
Also, a structural reform involving moving Black Hawk, Apache and other helicopters around the components under the Aviation Restructuring Initiative needs to go through. Failure on that would exacerbate the effects of sequestration, he said.
“There’s a kid today in ninth grade somewhere starting high school,” Ferrari said. “In four years, that [now-]13-year-old may be wearing a rucksack. He or she will be in some forsaken place that we don’t even know today. We always go to the places we don’t know. They’ll bear the entire brunt of the risk of misapplied financial decisions we make collectively.”
And, it’s not just the kid in ninth grade; Soldiers today will be impacted as well, he added.
“The wrong answer for the Soldier is to put things off limits in the budget, and make certain things forbidden to talk about. Everyone has an interest group. The only person who doesn’t have an interest group at this time is that Soldier in Afghanistan. Because they’re out there, no one is campaigning for their readiness dollars.”
Ferrari said he appreciated the help that Veteran Services Organization and Military Service Organization representatives give in taking the Army message to Congress, and to the American people and helping veterans.