Here’s What We Know About the Pentagon’s 2020 Budget Request

By Marcus Weisgerber

March 11, 2019

The Pentagon is asking Congress to approve a $750 billion budget for fiscal 2020 under a spending plan that is already facing criticism from Democrats and Republicans.

Trump administration officials said Monday that the defense budget request “enhances the military’s readiness and lethality, prioritizing strategic competition with China and Russia,” a key tenet of its year-old National Defense Strategy.

The Pentagon-specific portion of the request totals $718 billion, which is $33 billion (5 percent) higher than what Congress approved for the military in 2019.

The administration sent the entire federal spending request to lawmakers on Monday, but declined to make it available to the media or the broader public. Top Pentagon and military service officials are scheduled to brief the press on Tuesday. In addition to that, the Pentagon is planning to release more detailed budget justification documents next week.

Related: Would a $700 Billion Budget Really Sink the Pentagon?

Related: Mattis ‘Optimistic’ Pentagon Will Get Needed Budget from White House, Democrats

Related: 2020 defense spending outlook: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; Don’t forget the budget caps; more…

Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called the “staggered rollout … a bit unusual.”

Per a White House Office of Management and Budget document, here is what we know about the defense request:

The massive OCO request is sure to get blowback from Democrats and Republicans alike. Historically, the OCO budget has been used to fund war operations. However, the Trump administration has chosen to use that account, which lawmakers have long called a slush fund, as a way to circumvent federal spending caps that run through 2021.

The oversized OCO request is troubling, however, because it takes a short-sighted view of the military rebuild,” Fred Bartels, a defense budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in an emailed statement on Monday.

Funding for Trump’s much-desired wall on the border with Mexico could draw scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Mackenzie Eaglen and Rick Berger, analysts at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who have argued for a higher-than-$750 billion defense budget, said the administration's request “inappropriately included border wall funding” alongside military spending.

That’s basically just growth with inflation from 2019, and it continues a flat defense spending trajectory for years to come,” Eaglen and Berger wrote.

The year-over-year budget growth is “a good outcome on its face as it signals defense hawks winning over deficits hawks in the [administration],” Citi analyst Jon Raviv wrote in a note to investors on Monday. “But as we've written the final outcome is up to Congress to decide (and the [Democrat]-controlled House will have a hard time accepting this proposal since there’s a large OCO piece designed to skirt the caps).”

The budget request includes an unspecified amount of funding for creating the U.S. Space Force, a new branch of the military. There is also funding for standing up U.S. Space Command, a new combatant command for space warfighting, and the Space Development Agency, a new organization that will oversee satellite buying.

Other key items include:

Also of note, the document states that the Pentagon saved $4.7 billion by making business practice reforms in fiscals 2017 and 2018. Another $6 billion is being targeted in fiscal 2019. “The objective is not simply savings over time, but a sustainable change in process and culture that will continue to ensure the most effective use of resources and increased lethality,” the document states.

The defense budget request makes up 3.2 percent of of the U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, according to the Trump administration.

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By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

March 11, 2019