OPENING STATEMENT: The Honorable Peter Visclosky, Ranking Member, Defense Subcommittee Hearing—March 13, 2014
I thank Chairman Frelinghuysen and congratulate him on his first hearing as Chairman of the Subcommittee.
I would also thank our witnesses, Defense Secretary Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey, and Undersecretary Hale for their testimony today. Your remarks and answers to our questions are an essential part of our deliberations on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request.
I would also like to recognize Bob Hale, Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller). I understand today’s hearing may be your last official appearance before the Defense Subcommittee. You have helped the Pentagon navigate some of the most difficult financial terrain in recent memory. We thank you for your dedication and for your years of service.
On the surface, the FY 2015 budget request suggests stability. $496 billion is requested for Defense overall. Of this amount, $490 billion is within the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee. This provides almost level funding compared to $486.9 billion in FY 2014.
However, there is much uncertainty and change within an apparently stable topline.
The FY 2015 budget clearly expresses a desire to break out of the constraints imposed by the Budget Control Act. This is best evidenced by the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative which recommends $56 billion in spending above the Bipartisan Budget Agreement paid for with tax reforms and mandatory spending cuts. $26.4 billion of this proposal is for Defense.
The Quadrennial Defense Review summarizes the Department’s longer term view:
“The FY 2015 President’s Budget . . . reflects the strict constraints on discretionary funding required by the Bipartisan Budget Act in FY 2015. It does not accept sequestration levels thereafter and funds the Department at about $116 billion more than projected sequestration levels over the 5-year period.”
The request leaves Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding unresolved. The Office of Management and Budget’s Budget Appendix contains plenty of “struck” language from the prior fiscal year, but provides no new language for FY 2015. The Department of Defense budget does include a “placeholder” of $79 billion, but also fails to provide justification for this amount. We recognize this stems from uncertainty in Afghanistan, specifically whether or when the Afghans approve the Bilateral Security Agreement. However, under any scenario being discussed, there will be a requirement for OCO funding in FY 2015. Some path forward must be chosen to provide the support required for our deployed forces.
The request also embarks on initiatives to control the growth of personnel and health care costs that consume an increasing share of the Defense budget. I recognize the need to address these problems, but these problems have proven to be some of the most difficult to resolve in light of failed attempts in the past.
We look forward to your testimony and how you plan to navigate the turbulent waters of Fiscal Year 2015.