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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Defense comptroller: Continuing resolution for 2011 is dangerous

If the Defense Department has to operate under a continuing resolution for the rest of fiscal 2011 "bad things will happen" and Pentagon officials will face the hard choice of "which child do you kill" when it comes to funding key programs such as a new Air Force tanker, Robert Hale, the Defense comptroller told reporters at the Pentagon this afternoon.

Defense, along with the rest of the federal government, has been operating under continuing resolutions, which set funding at 2010 levels since the start of the 2011 fiscal year in October. Budgetary uncertainty already has caused the Navy to delay construction of a new Virginia-class submarine and the Army to institute a temporary hiring freeze of civilian personnel, Hale said.

The lack of a full-year budget has hobbled efforts by the services to repair war-worn equipment, and a $2 billion cut in the working capital fund -- cash as Hale explained it -- could impede Defense efforts to buy fuel for its vehicles, ships, and aircraft.

The House Appropriations Committee approved on Feb. 11 a 2011 Defense base budget of $512 billion -- down $32.8 billion from the requested budget -- in a continuing resolution expected to go to a vote by the full House this week. The panel also approved an overseas contingency budget, which funds operations in Afghanistan and Iraq for $157.8 billion -- almost $200 million below the requested $159 billion.

The cuts pose "serious risks" and are dangerous for Defense, Hale said, noting that the department needs a base budget of at least $540 billion this year.

Hale said he "cannot think of a more serious [budget] situation in the past 30 years" of his federal service. In addition to hurting Defense, contractors could start laying off skilled workers.

Hale told reporters that a continuing resolution was "not only a bad idea, but a bad way to budget."

-Bob Brewin, NextGov.com

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