A blast of wintry weather March 3 in the U.S. capital has added a layer of complication to the March 4 rollout of the Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 budget request and accompanying long-term spending blueprint—but probably only for reporters and analysts.
With the glossy brochures printed and officials’ schedules already aligned to make the perfunctory public presentations, it is hard to imagine how a late-winter surge of snow and cold temperatures the day before will be allowed to derail what is supposed to be an annual public relations opportunity for the sitting president. While reporters and analysts may find it hard to get around Washington or to get their hands on documents (even electronically), it is likely that the show must go on.
The rollout begins with a Tuesday morning press conference by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which, when concluded, will signal that federal agencies are allowed to begin briefings on their own elements of the request. At the Pentagon, the overarching briefing on the roughly $496 billion base budget request by top officials begins at 1 p.m., with the military departments set to follow once it is over.
Still, with official pre-release briefings offered last week, it is becoming clear that several questions will remain over exactly what the administration is requesting for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. For starters, the off-budget supplemental budget request—nominally to fund warfighting overseas—will be released at a later date. That part of the budget request is significant for two reasons. First, it is not limited by so-called sequestration spending caps; also, both the Pentagon and Congress increasingly use it to sneak in billions of dollars in additional funding over and above sequestration caps for everything from Army and Marine military personnel pay to National Guard weapons acquisition.
In fact, in the current fiscal year enough has been requested and provided in supplemental accounts—almost $30 billion—on top of warfighting to essentially offset mandatory cuts to the base budget, according to budget expert Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “This is something that DOD and Congress have been complicit in,” he detailed to Washington reporters in person and in a report online March 3. “Of course you’re going to try to use this safety valve, this uncapped amount,” Harrison said.
Still, as official leaks last week indicated, the Pentagon is beginning its tradeoff of capacity, or force-structure size, to fund future capability development such as new weapons technology. “The Fiscal 2015 defense budget is in many respects a turning point for the[DOD],” Harrison said in his report. “While it does not fully comply with the budget constraints set by Congress, it comes much closer to complying than previous budget requests. The choices made in this budget reflect the trades DOD has chosen to make when resources are constrained, not the choices it would make if funding were less constrained.”
It would be shocking and completely counter to recent trends if defense officials and lawmakers did not take advantage of an “out” they gave themselves in the law. But that won’t be the message March 4. Instead, expect officials and even some lawmakers to spotlight tough decisions—at least for them—that ostensibly are demanded if sequestration caps remain law from fiscal 2016 onward. Then wait to see what officials request in the supplement, and what Congress adds in itself.
Meanwhile, the week’s events include:
• March 4: The fiscal 2015 budget request is released in Washington, and Aviation Week’s Defense Technology and Requirements (DTAR) conference begins in suburban Arlington, Va., featuring a number of Pentagon officials discussing the spending outline. Also,kicks off the 52nd Goddard Memorial Symposium in suburban Greenbelt, Md.
Meanwhile, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the retiring four-star in charge of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, gives the keynote address at Georgetown University’s annual International Conference on Cyber Engagement. And the four-star combatant commanders in charge of U.S. Strategic and Pacific commands (Pacom) testify in front of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).
• March 5: DTAR and Goddard conferences continue. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) to discuss the budget request. Senate defense appropriators, meanwhile, hear testimony about military space (milspace) issues from CEO Elon Musk of(SpaceX), former George W. Bush administration space official Scott Pace, and Michael Gass of United Launch Alliance, as well as a congressional auditor.
That afternoon, Air Force officials brief Pentagon reporters on milspace elements of their request. The SASC strategic forces subcommittee calls a hearing on nuclear force portions of the request. And the Atlantic Council hosts several think tank presentations on the Quadrennial Defense Review, “Big Data” in the defense business, and Afghanistan.
• March 6: The Goddard symposium wraps up. The SASC hears testimony from the commanders of U.S. Central and Africa commands. Hagel and Dempsey go before the HASC. The Pacom commander speaks at Atlantic Council. And the Center for Strategic and International Studies provides a lunch seminar with the National Nuclear Security Administration’s one-star military liaison.
• March 7: The newly minted Friday Space Group, a PR effort by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies for promoting space spending and attention in the capital, hosts a seminar on the value of space-based position, navigation and timing services for combat personnel.