By and Large, Obama Accepts Gates' DoD Budget Plan

Government Relations Update - Defense

Revealing few surprises, the Obama administration released a $663.8 billion fiscal year 2010 defense budget yesterday that mirrors the spending priorities laid out by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on April 6—the opening stage of a Pentagon transformation that the President says will eliminate weapons systems that are “ill-suited for the threats of the 21st century.”

Although the Defense budget equates to a four percent increase over FY09 levels—including $533.8 billion for regular operations and $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—high-profile defense programs such as the F-22 and the Army’s Future Combat Systems will take major hits, while the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicle will see sharp increases. Noteworthy program modifications within the FY10 defense budget include:

  • Halting production of the F-22 Raptor at 187, four more than the current number

  • Cutting by $150 billion the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS), ultimately canceling the vehicle component of FCS.  

  • Boosting the purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) from 14 in FY09 to 30 in FY10, amounting to a $4.4 billion increase.

  • Providing a $2 billion increase for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support, resulting in permanent base-budget funding for the Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicle.

During a news conference on Thursday at the Pentagon, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert Hale reiterated that the President’s DoD budget provides no spending plans beyond 2010, ultimately deferring decisions on other big-ticket items until the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and the 2011 Program and Budget Review processes are completed.

As the House and Senate Armed Services Committees look ahead to hearings related to the FY10 National Defense Authorization Act, 11 HASC Republicans have already aimed pointed criticism at the Obama administration for a lack of transparency during the DoD budget process, issuing a formal letter decrying the expanded use of Non-Disclosure Agreements for senior officials at the Pentagon, along with increased report classifications.

On May 13, HASC will receive budget testimony from Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, which will be followed by additional hearings related to each of the individual military service budgets.

FY09 War Supplemental Moves Through House Committee

The House Appropriations Committee passed a $94.2 billion FY09 war supplemental appropriations bill on Thursday, representing a $9.3 billion increase from President Obama’s original request that includes a $3.1 billion add-on for the purchase of C-17s and C-130s and a $2.2 billion increase for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicles.

House appropriators also tacked on roughly $3 billion to President Obama’s request for security assistance to Israel and Mexico, along with an additional $350 million for state and localities to combat a potential flu pandemic and $100 million for AIDS and disease prevention within impoverished nations.  

But most notably, the House bill excluded $50 million requested by the President to relocate detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba; a move that Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI) said was in response to the administration’s lack of an alternative plan for prisoner transfer.

The bill also seeks to enhance congressional oversight of funding directed to Afghanistan and Pakistan, requiring the Obama administration to submit a report by February 2010 describing how the central governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan are achieving political reconciliation, security improvements and anti-corruption measures. Although these provisions do not constitute “benchmarks” that may be tied to future funding—a move that Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly opposed last week—several lawmakers, including SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) are unsupportive of congressional meddling within the supplemental on the grounds that the administration is currently in the process of creating benchmarks on a more comprehensive scale. 

The supplemental is expected to reach the House floor next week, followed by action in the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Senate Passes Acquisition Reform Bill

By a vote of 93-0, the Senate passed S.454, the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, legislation introduced by Chairman Carl Levin and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) to reform the DoD acquisition and procurement process.

Meanwhile, HASC also unanimously approved their version of the legislation (H.R. 2101) on Thursday, setting up a floor vote that could come as early as next week, which will be followed by conference negotiations.

In the coming weeks, Blank Rome Government Relations plans to issue a detailed analysis of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009.

Notice: The purpose of this newsletter is to identify select developments that may be of interest to readers. The information contained herein is abridged and summarized from various sources, the accuracy and completeness of which cannot be assured. This alert should not be construed as legal advice or opinion, and is not a substitute for the advice of counsel.