Mattis, Tillerson warn again that lack of long-term budget harming national security

In a rare joint appearance, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis appeared at an annual retreat for congressional Republicans to warn — again — that the lack of a real budget rather than continuing resolutions is harming national security because the Pentagon is unable to launch long-term weapons development programs.

“The secretaries were very clear in encouraging Congress to resolve the budget issues and to end continuing resolutions so they can manage their departments and more importantly, the world knows we are functioning and can do whatever needs to be done to protect the national security of the United States,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Nobody wants a government shutdown, but we also cannot continue to inflict the damage that CRs inflict on the military. We can’t keep doing that.”

Meanwhile, in his breakfast session with reporters this week, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva said once the Pentagon gets close to the halfway point in the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, even if it gets its full budget, there simply isn’t time to spend the money wisely. What’s more, without a long-term budget the Pentagon cannot get the defense industry to commit to long-term projects.

“There’s a presumption that we can cram the acquisition programs into the remainder of the year,” Selva said at a Defense Writers Group session Tuesday. “Which means the industries that produce the things that we buy and consume are kind of in a three-point stance, ready to go, they’re waiting for the starter’s gun to sound so they can get to work. There is a point in the near future where they will not be able to finish the race.

“There’s also a presumption when you engage in a CR that when you finally pass the budget you will actually not have missed any real opportunities for investment, which is ludicrous,” Selva said. “If you get too far into the year you cannot recover. And our experience tells us four to six months is that point in the year where you’re past the point of no return, so units will not be able to recover the training that they have lost.” [Source: Daily on Defense/Washington Examiner]

(Analyst comment: Without taking sides politically, the inability for Congress to pass real budgets that allow the Pentagon to plan for purchases and weapon system development is unprecedented and is unique to the modern era. The observations about defense industry reaction to continuing resolutions are particularly noteworthy, as are those related to missed training opportunities due to a lack of funding.

Before 2009, Democrats and Republicans generally agreed that funding the military, especially during a time of war, was vital to the nation’s defense, but now it seems as though the issue has become as partisan as every other. The generals and the national security diplomats have desperately — and repeatedly — sounded the alarm over the past several years and continue to do so; not enough lawmakers in Congress are listening. Mark my words, there will be a price Americans will pay for this gross legislative negligence, but it won’t be because lawmakers weren’t warned. — JD)

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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