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Proposed 10-year House budget plan would cut federal spending by $5.1 trillion, but increase defense budgets

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

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This week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) proposed a House Budget Resolution that would cut $5.1 trillion billion in total federal spending over the next 10 years. Overall, Ryan says his proposal would produce a $5.3 trillion reduction in budget deficits through 2024.

The annual budget resolution, often referred to as a “congressional budget blueprint,” sets revenue and appropriations targets for the tax writing and appropriations committees, so they can begin work on the president’s budget request.  This is an internal congressional procedure, so a passed budget resolution is not sent to the president for approval.

Ryan said his plan, called the “Path to Prosperity,” will reduce the deficit and maintain low interest rates “which will spur greater investment and productivity.” Three-quarters of the $5.1 trillion in total spending savings would come from lower mandatory spending. Major changes to the Affordable Care Act would produce $2.1 billion in reduced spending, according to the Ryan plan. Changes to Medicaid and other mandatory programs would yield another $1.7 billion in spending cuts. Interest payments would also be $783 billion lower, according to the plan. Reduced discretionary spending (from funding provided in appropriations acts) would account for only $460 billion over 10 years (less than 9 percent of total spending savings) in the Ryan proposal.

The Ryan budget would not change the FY 2015 budget request for national defense (DoD plus other defense-related spending, such as the Department of Energy’s nuclear program) and nondefense discretionary budgets.  However, beginning in FY2016 the plan would set defense budgets above the level called for in the Budget Control Act (BCA) in each year through 2024, adding $483 billion. For the same period, Ryan’s plan would cut nondefense budgets by almost $800 billion.

The Ryan plan states that major mismatches exist in current U.S. defense policy: between threats and resources and between the administration’s stated policy and its budget plan. His budget resolution proposes “to resolve these contradictions by restoring defense budgets to the levels dictated by the national security interests of the nation.” While Ryan states the president’s proposed troop cuts go too far, he says any troop reductions should be accompanied by cuts in the civilian and contractor workforce. He expresses concern about rising costs of military personnel and supports the work being done by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to assess compensation plans and make recommendations to DoD.

Ryan also proposes to reduce the cost of the federal workforce. His plan would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, primarily through attrition, by allowing the hiring of only one new employee for every three workers who leave federal service. The plan would also eliminate a program that allows federal agencies to repay student loans for federal employees, which is often used as a recruiting and retention tool.

The Ryan budget would require federal employees to contribute more to their retirement benefit, in line with recommendations from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility. Last year, the president proposed to increase federal employee pension contributions, but Congress took no action. This year the president did not include such a proposal in the FY2015 budget request.

The House Budget Committee has approved the Ryan plan and the full House is set to consider it next week..  However, the Democrat-controlled Senate will not act on a budget resolution this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Budget Committee chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have said there is no reason for the Senate to consider a House Budget Resolution or to produce a Senate budget resolution because the BCA set the FY2015 and FY2016 funding levels.

AGA seeks a dynamic Executive Director

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

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AGA seeks a dynamic Executive Director to succeed Relmond Van Daniker, DBA, CPA, who retires September 30, 2014.

The Executive Director serves as the Chief Executive Officer of our 15,000 member professional association serving all levels of government, academia, and the private sector.

Salary and benefits commensurate with experience. The full job announcement & application process can be viewed at http://www.agacgfm.org/agaexecutivedirector. Applications are due April 7, 2014.

Air Force continues to reshape civilian workforce

Friday, March 28th, 2014

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The Air Force announced another round of civilian workforce shaping initiatives this week to meet lower funding targets and to continue to bring the workforce in line with skill demands.

Lt. Gen. Sam Cox, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force for manpower, personnel, and services said “we recognize the invaluable contributions of our civilian workforce, but must manage within (Defense) Department fiscal constraints to meet mission needs of the years to come.”

Cox emphasized that these reductions are part of the Air Force’s goal of maintaining a smaller and more streamlined force.

The Air Force will rely heavily on the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay (VSIP) to meet its workforce goals. VERA offers early retirement and VSIP provides up to $25,000 to employees whose voluntarily separation would save someone from being involuntarily separated.

This action follows on an offer of VERA and VSIP programs in December, 2013. Col. Bryan Kelley, director for AF force management policy, said the procedures for this new round would use the same criteria used in the earlier round. Late this year, employees in targeted occupations and locations will receive surveys to determine interest, he said.

Kelly stressed that the Air Force will use all available voluntary workforce shaping programs in the hope of avoiding involuntary actions. However, he cautioned the Air Force might have to implement Reduction in Force (RIF) to meet its goals, if VERA and VSIP are not enough.

RIF authorities are used to identify employee placement rights to vacancies and possibly waive qualifications, creating additional placement options. The authorities provide flexibility for civilians to be placed at their current installations without losing grade or pay or to be registered in the Priority Placement Program (PPP).  Using RIF procedures would also give installations greater flexibilities to realign and rebalance their civilian workforce.

Addressing an issue of high interest to civilian employees after the events o this past year, Kelly emphasized that furloughs are not being considered to meet budget targets.  Any involuntary separations would be used as a last resort, he said.

DoD urges Congress to approve 2017 BRAC round

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

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A Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017 will help DoD ensure that DoD “does not drain resources from the warfighter” to fund unneeded infrastructure, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) John Conger told Congress.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Subcommittee (HAC-MilCon/VA), Conger laid out the case for another BRAC round: 1) DoD continues to have significant excess capacity, 2) proposed troop reductions will create additional unneeded capacity, 3) savings from previous BRACs has have been substantial, and 4) the BRAC process allows DoD to rationalize the alignment of infrastructure with force structure and transition excess property for reuse.

These comments echoed statements Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s has made in support of another BRAC round. Earlier this month, Hagel told Congress that DoD must divest “excess domestic facilities and BRAC is the most responsible path.” He added that DoD cannot continue to finance “overhead that we don’t need, because we’re taking that money from areas that we do need.” If DoD delays in reducing excess infrastructure now, funding in future budgets will have to be diverted from training and equipping troops to support unneeded facilities, Hagel warned.

In his testimony before the HAC subcommittee, Conger responded to criticism that the BRAC process does not achieve advertised savings. He presented data that support DoD’s contention that base closings do yield substantial savings.  The first four BRAC rounds (1988, 1991, 1993, 1995) “are producing a total of about $8 billion and BRAC 2005 is producing an additional $4 billion in annual recurring savings,” he emphasized. These total annual savings of $12 billion are the “result of the avoided costs for base operating support, personnel, and leasing costs that BRAC has made possible,” he said.

Congressional critics of BRAC contend that the 2005 BRAC costs were $325 billion higher than projected. Conger agreed that “we cannot afford another $35 billion BRAC round.” But, he argued much of BRAC 2005 focused on “taking advantage of transformational opportunities that were available only under BRAC.” And, both DoD and the Congress seized this opportunity while budgets were high. He cited as an example the consolidations of hospitals in the National Capital Area and in San Antonio. Rather than driving only for savings under these consolidations, DoD and the Congress decided to make the hospitals “world class” employing the latest health care standards.

Conger stressed that the BRAC process is “auditable and logical which enables independent review by the Commission [on Base Realignment and Closure] and affected communities.” This position is supported by the General Accountability Office (GAO), he said. In a report last year, GAO stated that BRAC 2005 “was generally logical, reasoned and well documented and we continue to believe the process remains fundamentally sound.”

DoD leaders recognize that any proposed BRAC round faces strong opposition and much skepticism in the Congress. Congress has rejected two previous BRAC proposals. In 2012, after it was clear that Congress would not support the request for another BRAC, then Secretary Leon Panetta notified Congress that DOD would not continue to press for the 2013 BRAC round. However, he warned “this does not mean that BRAC is dead.” DoD still needs to “take a hard look at what we do in terms of support infrastructure as we seek to reduce overhead costs,” he said. His words were prescient as DoD is again proposing another BRAC round.

This year, there doesn’t appear to be strident opposition to BRAC that Congress has demonstrated in the past. However, there is little strong support for a new round. Secretary Hagel has appealed to Congress to work with DoD to make wise decisions on force structure and DoD infrastructure. But, he also cautioned that “if Congress continues to block these [BRAC] requested while reducing the overall budget, we will have to consider every tool at our disposal to reduce infrastructure.”

Hagel warns a return to sequestration cuts would increase security risks

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

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The U.S. military will be forced to make decisions that increase security risks if sequestration cuts were required again in FY2016 and beyond, according to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Testifying last week on the FY2015 budget request before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D), Hagel repeated warnings he has made since the FY2015 budget was submitted two weeks ago. “As I’ve made clear, the scale and timeline of continued sequestration-level cuts would require greater reductions in the military’s size, reach, and margin of technological superiority,” he said.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, passed by Congress in December, set the total federal funding level for discretionary spending for FY2014 and FY2015. The Act provided about $65 billion in sequester relief over these two years, evenly divided between defense and nondefense programs. As a result no additional sequestration cuts will be necessary in FY2014 and none will be made in FY2015.

However, unless congress takes action in FY2016 to either replace sequestration cuts with a new budget deal or at least mitigate the effects of those cuts, DoD and other federal agencies will be required to implement deep cuts.

Hagel told the HAC-D that such cuts would force the Army to reduce its active force to 420,000 by 2019 rather than to 440,000 to 450,000 specified in the FY2015-19 budget plan. The Army Guard and Reserve forces would be have to decline to 315,000 and 185,000, respectively, rather than the 335,000 and 195,000 levels currently planned. The Marine Corps would have to draw down to 175,000 rather than the 182,000 in the budget plan. Hagel emphasized that these additional troop strength cuts were the minimum that could be required under sequestration.

In addition to more troop strength cuts, Hagel listed a number of modernization programs in the FY2015-19 budget plan that would be affected if Congress re-imposed sequestration cuts. The Navy would have to retire the U.S.S. George Washington and its carrier air wing, lay up six more ships, and defer buying one submarine. The Navy would also be forced to buy two less F-35Cs and three fewer DDG-51 destroyers in the FY2015-19 period, he said.

The Air Force would be forced to retire 80 aircraft, including the KC-10 tanker fleet and the Global Hawk Block 40 fleet, Hagel said. The Air Force would also buy 15 fewer F-35As through FY2019.

Hagel stressed that the potential cuts from sequestration would also affect readiness and research and development (R&D) funding. The Air Force could sustain 10 less Predator and Raptor combat air patrols and would have to make severe cuts to flying hours. Total DoD operations and maintenance (O&M) would grow only two percent under sequestration, rather than the three percent included in the budget plan. Total R&D funding would decline by 1.3 percent, rather than increasing by 1.6 percent as proposed in the plan. Further recovery in funding construction and repairs at military facilities would be limited, Hagel said.

Secretary Hagel emphasized that the proposed FY2015-19 budget plan would enable DoD to manage the increased risks caused by reduced funding levels. However, he warned, “under a return to sequestration spending levels, risks would grow significantly, particularly if our military is required to respond to multiple major contingencies at the same time.” 

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