As Service Leaders Plea for Steady Funding, House Panel Warns Them to Spend Wisely
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The leaders of the House Armed Services Committee told the three service secretaries March 20 that if Congress passes the fiscal 2018 appropriations this week they will have a lot more money and more authority on acquisition, and now they “have to deliver results.”
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and his fellow secretaries promised to spend the additional money wisely and use their acquisition authorities to find ways to save, but also pleaded for adequate and sustained funding in the future to help them make the necessary improvements in readiness and modernization.
Responding to questions, Spencer said the Navy was negotiating with industry to do a block buy of two Gerald R. Ford aircraft carriers, and was looking to find the funds to stretch the Virginia-class attack submarine buy to three a year as well as to buy a second littoral combat ship in fiscal 2019 because he recognizes that the request for only one could not sustain the two LCS shipbuilders.
Spencer also rejected the charge that the Navy was showing “no urgency” on the program to start building a new class of frigates and promised to award the contract for the first ship in fiscal 2019.
Spencer said the additional defense funding authorized under the bipartisan budget agreement will allow the Navy Department to start “building a more lethal, resilient and agile force,” that would be able to defeat any potential adversary across the full spectrum of combat.
Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said the two-year budget agreement, “which Congress must complete by passing the appropriations bill this week, begins to repair and rebuild the military. But our adversaries are not waiting around for us to catch up. We must reform as we rebuild.”
Ranking Democrat Adam Smith of Washington agreed with Thornberry that the budget deal “is an enormous opportunity” that provides “a lot of money” to the service, but they must “spend it wisely.” And Smith warned, because the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 that set limits on federal spending is still in place, “this is about the most money you will see in a decade.” He cautioned the service leaders not to make spending commitments they could not sustain under lower future budgets.
To put pressure on the rest of Congress to finalize the fiscal 2018 appropriations before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires March 23, Thornberry asked the secretaries to describe the impact if that does not happen.
Spencer repeated his statements that the nine years of CRs “cost the Navy about $4 billion burned in a trash can. … It’s absolutely critical that we get a steady flow of funding.”
Asked if the acquisition reforms that Congress has enacted have caused them any problems, Spencer said “no,” but asked for “a stabilization period so we can adjust to what we have.”
The secretary said he would use some of the new authority to find savings, including $1 billion he estimated could be cut from service contracts on department installations. He said the department would use money saved on some programs to bolster others, such as adding a second LCS and possibly adding a third attack submarine.
He also noted the request to Huntington Ingalls for the potential savings on a block buy of two Ford-class carriers, which some have estimated at $2.5 billion.
Questioned on the Navy’s commitment to airborne electronic warfare capabilities, Spencer said he was determined to field the long-delayed next-generation EW jammer “ASAP.”
Spencer conceded that given projected future shipbuilding funding it would be difficult for the Navy to reach its goal of a 355-ship battle fleet.
Closing the hearing, Thornberry said it “would be a mistake for any of us to think” the agreement to suspend the BCA spending caps “and money that flows from it, will fix all our problems. It won’t.”
And he told Spencer, “I think your shipbuilding plan highlights that. It shows the difference between what we say and what we’re doing.”