Secretary of Defense Austin: Yearlong Continuing Resolution Will Cause “Enormous” Damage To Defense Priorities

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has warned that the possibility of an “unprecedented” full-year Continuing Resolution to keep the United States government funded through fiscal 2022 despite an impasse over appropriations would cause “enormous, if not irreparable” damage to a wide range of bipartisan priorities including defense readiness and modernization, research and development and public health.

In a November 6 statement, Austin urged Congress to reach a “bipartisan, bicameral” agreement on fiscal year 2022 appropriations in the coming weeks, stating that:

“A full-year CR would be a fiscally unsound way of funding the Department of Defense and government as a whole.  It would misalign billions of dollars in resources in a manner inconsistent with evolving threats and the national security landscape, which would erode the U.S. military advantage relative to China, impede our ability to innovate and modernize, degrade readiness, and hurt our people and their families.  And it would offer comfort to our enemies, disquiet to our allies, and unnecessary stress to our workforce.”

The Department of Defense budget has been a partisan political battleground in recent times. A ‘continuing resolution’ essentially continues the pre-existing departmental appropriations at the same levels as the previous fiscal year. This removes the need for the US government’s legislature to agree on a fresh budget.

Austin said that restricting spending to the previous year’s levels would result in a “significant” budget cut in real dollar terms, with impacts including causing the 2.7% pay rise for troops and other new benefits proposed in the President’s budget request to come at the expense of suspending change-of-station moves and limits on recruitment. Similarly, Pentagon operating accounts would face over $5 billion in cuts, hurting troop readiness and the ability to cover healthcare needs of military families.

Additionally, the Secretary said that restricting funding to current levels would delay over 100 military construction projects, “many of which directly impact the quality of life of our people”. The impact of those delays, he added, would be felt “not only across the Department, but also in local communities around the country as job opportunities are lost and revenue for local businesses diminishes.”

Austin warned that the continuing resolution would significantly impact the Pentagon’s efforts to address innovation priorities like cyber, artificial intelligence and hypersonics programs:

“At a time when our adversaries are advancing their concepts and capabilities to erode our strategic advantages … and as we begin to knit together a truly groundbreaking vision of integrated deterrence … our hands will be tied.  We will be forced to spend money on things we don’t need and stop spending money on investments we desperately do need.”

President Joe Biden had signed a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government through February 18, giving Congress two more months to reach a bipartisan agreement to fully fund the military and civil government agencies.