Well, it’s been a rather bizarre budget week, and it’s not over yet. Here’s a tick-tock so far, and a look at what’s ahead:
Monday: Normal: The White House sent its fiscal 2020 budget proposal to Congress. Odd: “The document lacks details on individual programs that normally comes as part of the president’s request,” Bloomberg noted. “The rest is expected later this month.” Normal: White House officials held a backgrounder and then Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought held an on-camera briefing. Odd: Pentagon officials waited a day to hold more detailed briefings about the military budget. Here was my take on budget day 1.
Tuesday: Pentagon budget day. Normal: The usual, if delayed, budget briefings with military and civilian budget officials from across the services. Some budget overview books were released. Odd: Detailed justification books were lacking. We’re told the services will release the so-called J-books on March 18.
Really, really odd: Several Pentagon officials told me and colleagues at other news organizations that they would not release the customary five-year spending projections — also known as the future years defense program, or FYDP.
I recall this happening only one time in the 13 budget releases I’ve covered. That was in 2009, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announced his fiscal 2010 budget proposal. The projections were left out, if I recall correctly, because the Obama administration was reviewing all defense programs.
Back to Tuesday’s briefing. I asked Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon’s deputy comptroller, whether we would see the five-year projections in the fiscal 2020 budget proposal.
“[O]ur FYDP numbers are usually classified,” she said. “And so we submit those to Congress, and we’ll be doing so as we always do.”
Asked again about the FYDP by USNI News’ Sam LaGrone, McCusker replied: “It’s not a new policy. It’s my understanding that our FYDP numbers normally are classified, and we share those with the Hill in that way. There’s no change in policy.”
The subject came up again in the next briefing when a reporter posed the FYDP question to Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy. His response: “We usually call it ‘for official use’ [Editor’s note: material whose disclosure would not hurt national security yet is largely exempt from public-disclosure law]. We keep it sensitive. The numbers change a lot. You know, so as you make adjustments, so that’s usually why we don’t publish them, because we want to be consistent on how we communicate externally.”
Hmmm. By this point my colleagues are I were pretty curious. And judging by the dozens of text messages, emails, Twitter messages, phone calls and in-person conversations about this over the past 48 hours, you’re curious too.
As previously mentioned, five-year spending projects are just about always part of publicly released budget justification documents. Is this some new Pentagon policy to stop telegraphing its plans to Russian and China in this “great power competition” era described in the National Defense Strategy?
Not so much.
“The detailed Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) numbers in their entirety, and as provided to the Congress annually, are classified,” states an editor’s note on a transcript from Tuesday’s briefing. “The department’s topline request across the FYDP at the appropriation level is not classified, which is why it is in the Green Book. Any unclassified numbers are also provided in the justification books.”
So I’m told that the detailed budget justification books, which are supposed to be released on Monday, will have FYDP projections. So, Budget Day — now Budget Week — continues.
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More From the Budget Proposal
First the numbers:
- $576 billion: the Pentagon base request, which is in line with federal spending caps. This also includes money for nuclear projects in the Energy Department budget.
- $165 billion: the Overseas Contingency Operations budget request, which includes a mix of war funding and items that would ordinarily be in the base budget.
- $9 billion: for “emergency requirement to address border security and hurricane recovery.”
There’s already been intense criticism of the White House Office of Management and Budget’s order to the Pentagon to pack about $100 billion of base budget items into the Overseas Contingency Operations spending account to circumvent federal budget caps.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he has two priorities as his panel reviews the Pentagon spending request: Maintaining bipartisanship and passing the bill.
Smith also said there is bipartisan agreement that the Pentagon budget should not fund Trump’s border wall. “Our bill will not fund that,” he said.
Space Force Budget Numbers
- $72.4 million to stand up a Space Force headquarters staff at the Pentagon.
- $149.8 to create the Space Development Agency, for buying new satellites.
- $83.8 million to stand up U,S, Space Command, a new combatant command for space.
And what does Smith have to say about the Space Force proposal? “I cannot imagine what they proposed is going to happen. We want to place a greater emphasis on space … What I don’t like about the proposal from the White House is it’s too expensive and creates more bureaucracy. We don’t want to just create more people. Want to figure out how to better emphasize space.” Smith pledged to work with Republicans and Democrats on his panel to “come up with a proposal for emphasizing space that doesn’t involve creating a whole new bureaucracy.”
And it appears Smith read the Global Business Brief from two weeks ago where we told you that the Space Force would have at least two four-star generals (plus another one at U.S. Space Command). “Three more four-star generals are not going to make us stronger in space,” Smith said.
One more thing about space: Fred Kennedy, director of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA, has been named director of the Space Development Agency, which was formally established on March 12. That nugget was first reported by Defense News.
What does Smith think about the Space Development Agency? “I have not looked at the individual numbers on that. That makes more sense to look and see what do we need in space.”
More Worries about China and 5G
The Pentagon’s top acquisition official mentioned reports that the Trump administratio told Germany it would restrict intelligence sharing if Berlin installed Huawei 5G network infrastructure. “We need you in the department to help us carry that message everywhere we have to go because there is a large portion of America that doesn’t believe that there’s any inherent…vulnerability with China controlling the 5G network,” Alan Shaffer, the deputy defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said at the annual McAleese & Associates/Credit Suisse conference on Wednesday. Shaffer also mentioned reports that this tech could send info Chinese intelligence. “Draw the thread. They’re in Germany. That information can be sent back to China for analysis. Does that put the U.S. national security structure at risk? I think it does. And I think it’s something we all have to pay attention to. We have to work with trusted allies. We have to build up our own industrial base…to allow us to have things to offer our partners and allies in addition to Huawei and ZTE.”
FLIR Moves HQ to VA
The maker of the popular aircraft sensor balls will soon open its offices in Arlington, practically across the street from the Pentagon. “The facility significantly expands the company’s presence in Washington D.C. and creates a new space to showcase FLIR technology that helps save lives and livelihoods,” the company said in a statement “Having a greater presence in Washington, D.C. is critical to helping us grow our business, as it creates better proximity for FLIR to support key customers, investors, regulators, and the more than 3,800 FLIR team members around the world,” Jim Cannon, the company’s president and CEO, said in the statement. Boeing moved its defense headquarters from St. Louis to Arlington, just a few blocks from FLIR, in 2017.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson will step down on May 31 to become the president of the University of Texas at El Paso.
Preston Dunlap has been named chief architect of Air Force acquisition. “The chief architect position was been established by [Air Force acquisition] to enable the development of enterprise-wide combat capability through families of systems,” the service said in a March 8 statement. “He will create and manage family of systems trade space, design margins, and define interfaces and standards to ensure interoperability across domains and permissive to highly contested environments.” Dunlap will lead the Advanced Battle Management System, the U.S. Air Force’s effort to replace the E-8 JSTARS with family of systems.
Ben FitzGerald, who helped implement the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics office directorate, has rejoined the Center for a New American Security, as an adjunct senior fellow. FitzGerald was at CNAS before moving to the Senate Armed Services Committee staff and then the Pentagon.