Navy’s Slippery Slope Shipbuilding Fund Robs Peter To Pay Paul In Budget
When in 2013, lawmakers created a special fund for the Navy, observers warned of a slippery slope in which the fund would be expanded to cover other so-called ‘needs.’ Now, it looks like those fears are coming true.
A new report from the Project On Government Oversight found that the fund, originally tasked with pushing through spending for “national sea-based deterrence vessels” has been stretched by this year’s National Defense Authorization Act to include aircraft carriers and attack submarines as “national assets.” The distinction would spread their cost across the Pentagon.
Currently, the Navy is having a difficult time scrounging together funds for its top priority: 12 new ballistic missile subs. In fact, the service is coming up exactly $7 billion dollars a year short for construction of the subs under what it calls the Ohio replacement program. Without additional funding, the tradeoff for the new subs would be 69 other vessels.
The Navy continues to submit 30-year shipbuilding plans every year unabated by fiscal realities, despite admitting that its own spending rates remain unsustainable.
However, according to Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund doesn’t function at all like the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. Since the OCO is supposed to count as emergency war spending, it counts as additional money. The same is not at all true for the Navy’s special fund. Instead, “funds are potentially (and likely) going to be taken away from other service’s procurement and equipment priorities,” Eaglen told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Even some other Navy priorities could suffer, which would make this simply cannibalization. It’s hardly “free” money. It is money intended for other purchasing priorities within DoD, and that is part of the problem.”
For Eaglen, the real solution is to boost defense spending in the base budget, rather than relying on the OCO or any other special funds “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” as is the case with the Navy. In an op-ed for U.S. News in late April, Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, argued that the special fund means that the Navy is the only service that can burden the overall defense budget with extra programs. For Alexander, there is little reason why the Air Force wouldn’t try the same tactic to pay for intercontinental ballistic missiles.
An estimate from the Congressional Budget Office places the total cost of the Ohio replacement program at nearly $92 billion dollars.
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