The Pentagon’s Cap Games Are Not Helping

Sequestration has kicked in, but the fog of uncertainty that surrounded the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2013 budget will affect the Fiscal 2014 budget in similar fashion, said Todd Harrison, senior defense budget fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This bodes poorly for the Pentagon’s planning assumptions, Harrison told reporters on April 5 during a briefing in Washington, D.C. “The political divide is the same fight we’ve been having the past two years,” said Harrison. If the Defense Department’s forthcoming Fiscal 2014 budget request exceeds the Budget Control Act’s mandated cap of $475 billion—as Pentagon officials have indicated will happen by as much as $55 billion—then that means the Pentagon is hoping that Congress is going to lift the cap, or make the cuts to fit within the cap, he said. The Pentagon failed to plan adequately for the possibility of the sequester, said Harrison. As a result, it is now in “denial” about what it is getting out of Fiscal 2014 and Fiscal 2015 and delaying hard choices, he noted. The military has grown more expensive over the last decade despite shrinking in size, noted Harrison. For example, military personnel costs have grown from around 30 percent of the Pentagon’s base budget in Fiscal 2001 to 34 percent in Fiscal 2012, he said. Even if the growth returns to normal rates—around 2.6 percent a year—those expenditures will eat up some 46 percent of the budget by Fiscal 2021, assuming the BCA caps hold, said Harrison. (See also Harrison’s CSBA brief: Looking Beyond the Fog Bank.)