A change to some of the Defense Department’s “use it or lose it” money could come in this year’s budget negotiations. The Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry, will push appropriators to let the department roll over half of its operations and maintenance budget to the next year.
Steve Cortese, Former Staff Director of the Senate Appropriations Committee, believes that changing the operations and maintenance spending rules would be a bad idea, stating that the focus should be on transparency, accountability and discipline. “The focus should be on ensuring the monies are spent for the purposes for which they are specifically appropriated and authorized following that request by the Department of Defense,” he said.
The argument made by Congressman Thornberry is that there is an end-of-year spending rush, seen in other government departments as well, so the money might be better spent if it can roll over and be spent more thoughtfully. Cortese, on the other hand, believes that “the issue is how do we help the Department of Defense obligate the monies that are appropriated and authorized in a timely way throughout the year.” He explained, “if funds are extended out for another six months, another half year, it is going to make those budget preparation and legislative work much more challenging, because there will be so many more unknowns and uncertainties about how much is needed for that upcoming year.”
In response to the argument that other departments have the power to roll over this money, Cortese responded that the Department of Defense gets money with multiple periods of obligational authority, whereas in most federal agencies money is entirely available only for the current fiscal year. This results in different management challenges.
Cortese concluded by saying that it is important to create an environment where clarity about how money is being spent exists more frequently than at the end of the year. “More discipline exercised in the Pentagon, when they see monies not being obligated consistent with their own plan and leading to this potential overhang later in the year, is probably the best way for both sides of the river, in this case, to ensure the right amount of money is going to the right priorities for critical national security needs,” he said.