For the last nine years, DOD has been subject to continuing resolutions instead of having budgets, and the department needs stability and predictability to spend resources wisely and get service members the equipment and training they deserve, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 15.
Dunford is participating in the NATO Military Committee meeting at the alliance headquarters.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said another continuing resolution will mean the department will go four months into fiscal 2018 and be at a lower spending level than last year.
“A CR this year would be below the level of projected funding,” he said. “In other words, the ’18 budget would be a decrease in what the president’s projected budget would be.”
A continuing resolution is designed to be a short-term bridge as lawmakers form a new budget, the chairman said. But this year, the department will be under a continuing resolution for four months. The current CR runs out Jan. 19.
Lack of fiscal predictability, stability
“This is the ninth straight year with a continuing resolution,” Dunford said. “That lack of predictability and that lack of stability in the budget has not allowed us to most efficiently plan and use the resources available to us.”
This is because whether in a household budget or funding the military, predictability is key, Dunford said. Knowing when the paycheck comes in and how much will be in it week-to-week or month-to-month allows a family to plan expenditures and purchases. Not knowing how much will be in the check or even when it will arrive inhibits smart, judicious spending.
“We want to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and in order to do that you have to lay out a plan,” Dunford said. “And sometimes, when you are forced to spend all of the money in a compressed period of time at the end of the fiscal year, it isn’t as efficient a use of the resources as you would want it to be.”
Then, there is the uncertainty these constant continuing resolutions cause in the force. “The force … is very much aware of the budget debates, and it would be a very powerful signal for our elected leaders to pass a budget,” the general said. “On a day-to-day basis they are focused on the mission, but the budget is very much on their minds.”
Impact on readiness, modernization
Dunford stressed that readiness and modernization are linked. “They are all about delivering effective combat capability in terms of our units,” he said.
Modernization has effectively been delayed over the past decade and this will mean modernization accounts must be pumped back up, new technology must be exploited and new ways of using old technologies must be explored. This cannot happen under continuing resolutions, the chairman said.
Lawmakers on the committees overseeing defense understand the problem and want to pass a defense budget. “Defense Secretary [James N.] Mattis met last week with both Democrat and Republican members of the House and the Senate to outline for them the implications of a continuing resolution and the budget uncertainty that we’ve been dealing with,” Dunford said.
Mattis spelled out the real-world implications of not getting stable, predictable funding, the chairman said. The members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and Defense Appropriators understand this, Dunford said, and he and other senior DoD leaders have reached out to other representatives to explain the dangers facing the department.
Continuing Resolution impacts
“All I can do is continue to do what we do, which is educate the members on what we need in terms of levels of resourcing, and what are the impacts of a continuing resolution, let alone a government shutdown,” Dunford said.
Service members are concerned about the budget impasse. In his travels, troops ask the chairman about the budget but their “singular focus every day is doing their job,” he said.
“I think when people like us come to visit … they’ll ask questions about it, because it’s in the media, Dunford said. “I think they are assuming … that the leadership back in Washington, D.C., — and I include myself in that category with the secretary of defense and the members of Congress and the president — they’re assuming we’re going to do our job and deliver from them the resources they need to do their job.”