Budget Guesses

Political conflict makes it very difficult to predict where defense budgets are headed, but Todd Harrison, senior budget fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, spots some trends. Based on the precedents set by past post-war drawdowns, Harrison said defense procurement accounts could still see significant declines from their 2008 highs when the Defense Department’s massive mine-resistant, ambush-protected production program helped acquisition funding reach a recent peak. Research, development, test, and evaluation funding, however, may have already bottomed out, said Harrison Tuesday at AFA’s 2013 Air and Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. Unfortunately, the overall spending levels mandated by the Budget Control Act may actually represent a best case scenario in the outyears, he said. A $475 billion sequestration budget is still far above the $415 billion his models predict—based on the reductions after other wars. One of many problems for DOD to solve: personnel costs are continuing to rise even as Active Duty end strength declines to a post-World War II low.