Thank you, Senator Inhofe, for holding this hearing to consider funding levels for the Department of Defense. I join you in welcoming our witnesses this morning, and I look forward to their testimony.
Before we consider the details of the budget request, I would like to address some broader concerns I have with the Department. The National Defense Strategy (NDS) Commission Report released in November 2018 expressed significant concern about the balance of power between civilian and military leadership at the Department of Defense. Specifically, the Commission’s report stated, “Civilian voices have been relatively muted on issues at the center of U.S. defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control.”
Unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse since the Commission issued its report. The Office of the Secretary of Defense is without Senate-confirmed leadership in many of its most important positions. In the Policy office, of the seven positions requiring Senate confirmation, there are only two confirmed individuals, and one of these is now serving as the Acting Undersecretary. We just received a nomination for Under Secretary of Personnel & Readiness after a two-year vacancy. Then on Monday, the Administration withdrew the nomination of Elaine McCusker to be the Department’s Comptroller. These vacancies continue to challenge the Department’s ability to effectively respond to national security challenges and undermines civilian inputs into the decision-making process.
With political appointees largely absent, a large amount of work in the Department is now being done by career civil servants, and they too are beleaguered. Congress shares the blame in adding to civilian workforce woes with headquarter cuts. However pay freezes, hiring freezes, exemption from collective bargaining, and having career civil servants carry the weight of defending political decisions is likely to lead to a hollowing out of a workforce whose experience and expertise we desperately need.
Furthermore, on October 23rd of last year, I joined Chairman Inhofe and our HASC counterparts in sending you, Mr. Secretary, a letter expressing concern about the Department’s failure to properly empower and staff the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict in order to fully exercise its congressionally-mandated responsibilities for oversight and advocacy of special operations forces. This is another position that has had an “acting” principal for more than half the Administration. It is unacceptable that we still have not received a response to our letter more than 4 months later.
Now, turning to the budget request before us. The Fiscal Year 2021 budget for the Department of Defense seeks $636.4 billion for the base budget and $69 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds, of which $16 billion is designated to pay for base requirements.
In its base budget request, the Defense Department highlights resources targeted for the modernization of a more lethal force that is prepared for a high-end fight against near-peer competitors and to “operationalize” the National Defense Strategy, including investments in the space and cyber domains; the recapitalization of our nuclear deterrent; and the largest-ever research and development budget for artificial intelligence, directed energy, and hypersonic weapons. The base budget request also supports the quality of life of our service members by sustaining family support initiatives and by authorizing a 3% pay raise.
However, it is clear that the base budget request will not cover all of the Defense Department’s requirements, so once again, we have been presented with an overly generous use of the OCO account. I acknowledge that both Congress and other Administrations have included elements of base funding in OCO accounts in the past, but overloading the OCO request with $16 billion worth of activities that truly belong in the base budget is difficult to justify.
I would also highlight that this year’s budget reflects the outcomes of the Secretary’s Defense-Wide Review. The Department submitted a report to Congress in January that stated, “In an era of flattening budgets, it is more important than ever that we find creative ways to fund NDS-driven activities.” The review identified more than $5 billion in savings from defense-wide programs that were deemed a lower priority or inconsistent with the priorities of the NDS. These savings will be taken from, among other things, health affairs, DODEA schools, and cooperative threat reduction programs. I am interested in hearing more about the analysis behind the programs that were cut or eliminated and the areas in which those resources were reinvested.
Scrutinizing current programs to determine which ones support the Department’s priorities, and which ones should be reduced or eliminated, is appropriate and necessary. However, it is somewhat disingenuous to argue that flat defense budgets have forced the Department to realign funds internally to support NDS implementation, when the Department is making affirmative decisions to divert funding from NDS priorities. For example, the Department recently approved the transfer of $3.8 billion from National Guard equipment, additional combat aircraft, ISR assets, and amphibious ships in order to pay for the President’s border wall.
In addition, the budget request before us proposes significant cuts to initiatives like the European Deterrence Initiative, or EDI. This is after funding for several military construction projects in EDI was taken out last year to pay for the wall. Our close bond with our European allies and partners is one of our greatest strategic advantages and key to countering the near peer competitor of Russia. However, the cut to EDI sends exactly the wrong message to our allies and our adversaries.
It is the responsibility of this Committee to ensure the men and women we send into harm’s way have the resources necessary to complete their mission and return home safely. I am proud that this Committee has always worked in a bipartisan fashion during this process, and I look forward to working with all the Committee members to come to a reasonable agreement again this year.