SALT LAKE City, UT. --- Hill Air Force Base officials are struggling to plan for the future as Congress debates military appropriations in the overdue fiscal year 2018 budget.
Though a nearly $700 billion defense authorization bill awaits President Donald Trump’s approval, Department of Defense appropriations remain uncertain until Congress passes a budget bill, which will decide how much money is allocated to defense.
Officials at Utah’s Hill Air Force Base — still feeling the effects of the 2011 debt-ceiling debacle and subsequent sequestration that capped military spending — told reporters in a conference call Wednesday that they’re concerned.
If Congress doesn’t pass an appropriations bill before Dec. 8, nonessential federally funded activities will stop until a budget is approved, per the Antideficiency Act. That could mean furloughs for civilian employees and a disruption in flying operations at the base, such as in 2013.
If a budget passes and adheres to 2011 Budget Control Act spending caps, Hill officials believe they won’t have enough money to operate the base and achieve their mission of combat readiness.
While the bill to authorize defense spending in fiscal year 2018 would approve $695.9 billion for the Department of Defense, caps restrict the budget to $549 billion. (Fiscal year 2018 began in October.) The Air Force requested $132 billion and would receive $15 billion less with budget caps, said Micah Garbarino, spokesman for the 75th Air Base Wing.
Col. Jennifer Hammerstedt, 75th Air Base Wing Commander, said such a loss of funding could mean choosing among updating aging infrastructure, paying personnel to staff the base or cutting back on weapon modernization.
“Where do we want to make up that difference?” she said.
The base’s budget amounts to a small piece of total Department of Defense allocations, which the approved federal budget would determine — not the National Defense Authorization Act. Congress, whose initial deadline to approve the appropriations bill was Oct. 1, passed a resolution to fund the government through Dec. 8 and is working on the budget’s particulars.
If the president doesn’t sign an appropriations bill before then, or approve another continuing resolution, government services not deemed essential would stop until a budget was passed.
It’s unclear what the defense budget will look like or whether it will comply with spending caps. If it does, Hammerstedt said, base officials could deal with that.
Among their biggest problems, she said, is budgeting for the base long term when officials don’t know how much money they’ll have for the fiscal year until months after it begins.
“Unfortunately, we’ve operated like this for several years, so we try to learn from what we did last year, but certainly if you know what your annual budget is, you can be much more effective in planning out for the year,” she said. (end of excerpt)
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