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Lawmakers ask Navy, Marines for help addressing funding and readiness gaps

In a 2014 file photo, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall transits the Persian Gulf as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.

MARK ANDREW HAYS/U.S. NAVY

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 1, 2017

WASHINGTON – A panel of House lawmakers on Friday asked top officials of the Navy and Marine Corps for help convincing Congress to stop the flow of unstable military funding measures that have hampered amphibious warfare readiness and training efforts.

Members of a House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness turned the tables on the usual Capitol Hill conversation of temporary funding bills, known as continuing resolutions, that often lay blame of military budgeting shortfalls on Congress. This time, members said the military can do more to convince Congress to get full budgets passed.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., told a witness panel of top Navy and Marine Corps officials that the military can do a better job exerting influence on Capitol Hill to stop the temporary funding bills that are triggering the deficiencies.

“As long as you ask for a continuing resolution, you are going to get a continuing resolution,” Scott said. “Make us stop this madness. Until you hold Congress’ feet to the fire, you are going to have to watch our capabilities further degrade.”

The House readiness subcommittee hearing comes on the heels of a federal watchdog’s report finding critical readiness and training deficiencies for Navy and Marine Corps forces launching amphibious operations.

U.S. naval forces officials said Friday that they are doing the best they can with their funding to address the deficiencies, but it will take stable budgets to ultimately address the concerns.

This month, Congress sent a massive $700 billion defense bill to President Donald Trump’s desk, but a deal to fund the spending plan still isn’t clear. For now, the military is operating with a continuing resolution, which will hit a Dec. 8 deadline that some pundits and lawmakers say could bring a government shutdown or another continuing resolution.

The plan surpasses statutory budget caps by about $80 billion, and if not addressed, it could trigger automatic, across-the-board spending cuts.

“Now is the critical time to get out from under this problem from a budgetary perspective,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., told military officials on Friday. “It might seem absurd to put the onus on you, given that we are a separate branch of government which provides you with funding. It’s our job. But we really need your help because you guys bring a credibility that Congress does not. Congress is rocking a 12 percent approval rating, I think you guys are a 90 percent approval rating. By the way, (our) approval rating is lower than cockroaches and colonoscopies.”

Lt. Gen. Brian D. Beaudreault, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations, said ending the budget caps is necessary to address the shortfalls.

“The most important actions that Congress can take now is to immediately repeal the caps on defense spending in the Budget Control Act and provide a defense appropriation that ensures sufficient, consistent, and predictable funding to train, man and equip your Navy and Marine Corps,” he said.

In a September report, the Government Accountability Office found during the past two decades that the number of Navy amphibious ships has decreased by 50 percent from 62 in 1990 to the 32 today, said Cary Russell, the agency’s director of defense capabilities and management team. The agency also found Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers who are not nearing deployment are not receiving enough training, he said.

“The U.S. today faces a complex national security environment with threats ranging from large scale traditional state actors to destabilizing non-state actors,” Russell said. “However, each of the military services today are generally smaller and less combat ready than they have been in many years.”

Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, said the Navy has deferred maintenance as a result of the continuing resolutions. In the case of the USS Gunston Hall, the ship went into deferred maintenance for three years, bringing repair costs from $44 million to $111 million. The time in maintenance increased from 207 days to 697 days, he said.

“It’s akin to keeping a car that you’ve had for a long time – the maintenance costs become further and further” out, Lewis said. “Ships we have taken offline, we have no other choice because we don’t have adequate funding under continuing resolutions. However, we have done the best that we can do with the funding that we have.”

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter: @cgrisales
  

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