Senate Panel Hears Call for Predictable, Consistent Defense Funding
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — An ugly phrase from the U.S. military’s grim years after Vietnam re-emerged at a Senate hearing Feb. 8, when several top military leaders warned that unless the restrictive continuing resolution (CR) is replaced with a full-year funding bill and sequestration is repealed, the armed forces could be on a slide toward a “hollow force.”
The No. 2 officers of the Navy, Army and Air Force raised that concern at the conclusion of a hearing before the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee.
The term “hollow force” was used by an Army chief of staff in the late 1970s to describe a service with too few qualified Soldiers or enough ready equipment to meet its operational needs, the result of years of sharply reduced funding and personnel reductions after the withdrawal from Vietnam.
In response to a question from subcommittee chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn and Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said the lower funding available under the CR, rather than what was proposed for the full fiscal 2017 defense spending, and the even lower amount allowed under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) would acerbate already intense readiness problems and could result in the loss of trained personnel.
Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters did not respond to Inhofe’s question. But Walters had joined the others in early testimony about how the reduced funding since 2011, the persistent use of CRs, which limit spending to prior-year levels and prevent new procurement have shrunk their forces, and prevented needed maintenance and training, all while their forces were more heavily engaged around the world.
In a repeat of the testimony they gave to the House Armed Services Committee the previous day, the four officers cited high percentages of ships and aircraft that were unable to sail or fly due to lack of spare parts and maintenance, modernization programs falling behind, reduced numbers of personnel being over used because of a high global operational demand.
All four plead for not just a replacement of the current CR, which runs to April 28, but an end to the constant failure to pass normal appropriations bills that would allow them to efficiently execute acquisition, maintenance and personnel programs and to plan ahead. Consistent and predictable funding was as high a priority as the increased resources the Republican-led Congress and President Donald J. Trump’s administration have promised.
As with the House hearing, there was almost universal support for a repeal of the BCA and the threat of sequestration. The one difference was the argument by Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the panel’s top Democrat, for equal treatment of domestic spending, which also is constrained by the 2011 law. But Kaine noted that before the BCA, domestic and defense spending were treated separately and had to make individual cases for their spending levels.
Under questions, the service leaders also said they would like to see more exceptions to the federal hiring freeze declared by Trump. Moran said the freeze was a particular concern with the Navy’s public shipyards, which already are struggling to overcome a backlog in ship maintenance.