Budget cuts, veto risk complicate defense appropriations bill

The House is expected to pass its version of the 2013 defense appropriations bill, a $608 billion budget poised to take a significant hit if sequestration becomes a reality. The vote is expected July 20.

The 2013 defense bill includes $518.2 billion in the base budget and $88.5 billion in funding for overseas contingency operations. It does not include any direct references to sequestration, which will deduct roughly $55 billion from the budget if Congress’ current overtures to undo the process fail. The bill also faces the threat of a veto because it breaks a deal on spending levels made last August, according to an AP report.

The 2013 plan is an increase of more than $1 billion over last year’s Defense Department budget, and is $3 billion more than President Barack Obama’s defense budget request. It includes measures to revive programs Pentagon leadership had planned to retire next year, including a version of the Global Hawk unmanned vehicles. The House budget also boosts research and development funding by $576 million.

Some areas of focus in the House bill – though not always in the form of more money – include cyber defense; acquisition workforce issues; technology innovation; and personnel management and troop levels as the war in Afghanistan winds down.

In the bill, lawmakers call for DOD leadership to provide more information on cyber-related budget requirements, including separate budget justification and details on progress, goals, initiatives and operations.

“Further, the Committee suggests that the department continue to refine what activities, budget lines and programs should be considered cyber in order to better coordinate and track these budgets,” the House Appropriation Committee noted in a report on the bill.

Innovation in technology and small business also receive attention in the bill, with $250 million designated toward the Defense Rapid Innovation Program, which will target research, development, testing and evaluation.

“The Committee understands that DOD has received over 3,500 proposals primarily from small businesses, and will award funding on a competitive basis to stimulate innovative technology, reduce the lifecycle costs of weapons systems and address various technical risks confronting" DOD, according to the report.

Legislators took aim at other programs, including one targeting acquisition workforce training.

The appropriations committee has proposed a major cut to the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund, a pool of money for training the acquisition workforce.

The spending bill would cut the fund nearly in half compared to fiscal 2012’s appropriation. The committee recommended $50 million for the fund in fiscal 2013, according to the bill. In fiscal 2012, Congress gave the fund $106 million, and the president requested $274.2 million for 2013.

The fund is a key tool for the DOD to alleviate some of the long-standing challenges associated with training the acquisition workforce. It also provides additional funds for the recruitment, training, and retention of acquisition personnel.

DOD expects to use the fund’s money to hire approximately 10,000 new acquisition personnel through fiscal 2015. Approximately $1.8 billion was allocated to the fund through February 2012, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

The Obama administration dislikes the reduction, noting that defense officials would have to pull from other funds to meet shortfall between the appropriation and the statutory minimum for the development fund.

“The reduction in the appropriation would put unnecessary stress on the operation and maintenance budget at a time when funding levels are already constrained,” administration officials wrote June 28 in a statement of administration policy regarding the spending bill.

In a report on the spending bill, the appropriations committee said defense officials need to find ways to quickly conduct proper background investigations on potential employees. Constant and long-lasting delays can wreak havoc in the office.

“Workplace efficiency and morale decline when an employee is unable to work due to a delay in security clearance processing,” the committee wrote.

Committee members are concerned that DOD is not investing enough in automated tools necessary to speed up the investigation and reinvestigation process for security clearances. They urged the defense secretary to invest in those tools capable of conducting queries across government and commercial databases to streamline the time-consuming process for top level security clearances.

The House bill increases funding for military personnel, including, in some cases, more than the services themselves have requested.

The appropriations committee included more than $128 billion toward military personnel in new budget authority. These appropriations finance basic, incentive and special pays for active, reserve and National Guard personnel and Academy cadets. They also include funding for retired pay accrual, housing, subsistence and other allowances; recruitment and retention initiatives; permanent change of station costs; and other military personnel costs such as survivor, unemployment, and education benefits.

The military personnel funding is an increase of nearly $33 million above the budget request, but more than $2 billion below the fiscal year 2012-enacted level.

The bill would also bump up basic pay for all military personnel by 1.7 percent, starting Jan. 1, 2013, although an increase of .5 percent for civilian personnel was rejected. Also recommended is full funding to support the authorized end strength levels for active duty and Selected Reserve personnel.

In the committee report, lawmakers said they support programs that boost the morale and quality of life of military personnel and their families. There’s also continued support for constructive evaluations of recruitment and retention programs, bonus and special pay incentives, and personnel benefit programs for military personnel for fiscal year 2013.

About the Authors

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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