Lack of new budget could impact spending at Wright-Patterson AFB

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

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Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

“Managers at Wright-Patterson will have to live with less money than they expect for a few months,” one expert said.

Congressional lawmakers will likely avert a partial federal government shutdown Friday by extending current spending levels until late April, but the absence of a new budget could have consequences on spending at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and elsewhere, analysts say.

Still, a long-time Washington observer didn’t rule out a shutdown entirely, saying it is getting “harder and harder” to predict what Congress will do.

“There will probably not be a government shutdown but there is clearly an element of uncertainty,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs and a prior congressional staffer.

A continuing resolution capped spending at fiscal year 2016 levels but kept the government operating after the start of a new fiscal year Oct. 1 deadline. The new timeline would allow President-elect Donald Trump to have a say in the defense bill, officials say. The House approved the funding measure Thursday and the Senate was to take up task Friday.

‘Unprecedented and unacceptable’

In a Nov. 29 letter to House and Senate leaders, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter urged Congress to limit the length of a continuing resolution, which would cover for the first time two-thirds of the fiscal year if pushed to late April and would harm national security.

‘This is unprecedented and unacceptable, especially when we have so many troops in harm’s way,” Carter wrote.

The spending measure would cause the “most problematic shortfalls” in military operations and munitions needed in counter-terrorism operations, aid to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and hamstring a buildup of U.S. military force in Europe, Carter added.

Further, he wrote, it would prevent the start of new programs, an increase in production rates, and prevent initiating multi-year procurement. The Pentagon planned 57 new programs and 86 production increases this fiscal year, the defense secretary wrote.

If the measure lasts until the end of April, it will be the longest the Defense Department has operated under one in modern history, and the first time during a transition in presidential administrations, according to Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

“This is extremely wasteful and an extremely inefficient way of budgeting,” Gessel said, adding it creates “havoc” for many programs.

Lawmakers may exempt the KC-46 Peagsus, a new Boeing-built aerial refueling tanker for the Air Force, under the spending constraints of the continuing resolution to avoid paying Boeing “hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties,” according to senior defense analyst Loren B. Thompson. The tanker program is managed at Wright-Patterson.

“Continuing resolutions tend to waste time and money because programs that were destined to grow have to wait until Congress passes a real budget to reach the planned funding levels,” he added. “So suppliers aren’t paid on time, skills are underutilized and deadlines are missed.”

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James warned in September a long-term spending resolution would be “very, very damaging for the Air Force.”

The Air Force said it could receive up to $1.3 billion less. It would reduce spending on the development of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber and precision munitions, and stop equipment purchases in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, among other consequences.

“Managers at Wright-Patterson will have to live with less money than they expect for a few months — at least through March — while the new Congress gets itself sorted out,” Thompson wrote in an email, adding with Republicans in control of the House and Senate and the White House more defense funding is likely.

Harrison said in an email Congress appeared to allow “a number of exemptions” in the stop-gap spending measure like the KC-46 to increase production rates next year so “the impact should be minimal.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, was not available to comment Thursday, according to Morgan Rako, a Turner representative.

Defense bill passes Senate

In a measure separate from the spending bill, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing funding Thursday for defense programs – one which included a handful of provisions aimed at helping Ohio military installations.

The bill, which notably would also prohibit a round of base closures, includes $12.6 million for improved security gates at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the state’s only active duty military installation and the state’s largest single-site employer. Turner worked with Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, the commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson, to secure the funds, with the backing of Ohio’s two U.S. senators.

Specifically, the money would consolidate the operations of two active Entry Control Points at the base, improving both security and traffic flow at the base, said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who said it was “critical” that the base has the funding needed to adequately protect those working on the base.

The bill also includes:

• $14.4 million for facilities upgrades, equipment installation and other projects increasing energy efficiency and $1.1 billion for Air Force Research and Development benefiting work done by employees at Wright-Patterson’s Air Force Research Laboratory, said Brown.

• Provisions requested by Turner, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, to increase the collaboration of unmanned aircraft research between the Defense Department, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration. While the use of such unmanned vehicles has increased nationally, the Dayton area has fought to become a leader in unmanned aircraft research.

• Turner language that allows the Air Force Research Laboratory to partner with the private sector in order to ensure that the Defense Department is using the newest and most cutting edge technologies. And it included increased funding for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s collaborative work with other Ohio based research labs.

Turner also sought language that aims to better protect witnesses involved in sexual assault cases in the military, aiming in part to criminalize professional retaliation against victims and witnesses of crimes and requiring the Defense Department to report data on sexual assaults against spouses, intimate partners and children to Congress. And it includes language that would bar unaccompanied alien children from being housed at any military installation inside the continental United States unless the Secretary of Defense can certify that their use would not hurt military training, operations, or readiness.

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