March 31, 2014 | Issue Brief on National Security and Defense
The Obama Administration recently released its annual budget request for the Department of Defense (DOD) for fiscal year (FY) 2015. Over the past several years, the DOD’s annual President’s Budget Requests (PBR) have grown increasingly complicated, if not outright unhelpful. Due to the uncertainty of sequestration, the lack of appropriations bills, and politics, recent budget requests provided to Congress by the DOD were rarely indicative of how the military would actually be funded.
Initially, there was hope that this year’s budget request would finally give clarity on how the military would deal with the recent budget cuts. However, the FY 2015 budget request is proving to be the most confusing one yet. In practice, the DOD’s budget is only a request for funding it believes necessary to carry out its function and is a starting point for congressional debate on the matter. Congress has many options before it, but the first step is to understand what is and is not included in the DOD FY 2015 PBR.
This year, the DOD attempted to tie strategy to its budget request by releasing the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) at the same time as the budget. The merits of the 2014 QDR aside, the DOD would use the “updated defense strategy” to inform how to prioritize funding in the FY 2015 budget request. In addition, the DOD also tried to be more mindful of the defense toplines stated under current law. The result was an awkward blend of multiple budget toplines that, simply put, do not add up.
The characteristics of the FY 2015 PBR are as follows:
The DOD justified the higher defense topline by claiming that it was funding the military to meet the strategy laid out by the 2014 QDR with acceptable levels of risk. However, the FY 2015 PBR does not fully fund the force structure levels mentioned in the QDR. What the FY 2015 PBR actually funds is:
In short, the DOD sets goals for a defense force structure that requires a non-sequestration environment, but their non-sequestration version of the budget cannot fund it.
The permutations of budget scenarios are numerous, but here are some possible ways the FY 2015 PBR would actually add up given different budget toplines:
Congress must first decide on the fate of this fiscal year, FY 2015. The major decision would be whether to fund OGSI and how much of OCO to approve.
Congress must then decide what happens in FY 2016 and beyond. This is pivotal: The DOD has delayed many decisions to next year’s budget request, and the lack of budget clarity from Congress will lead to extremely poor decisions for the military.
Even at the force structure outlined in the 2014 QDR, the military will still incur higher risk and will be ill-equipped to meet the U.S. national security requirements. However, at this point in time, the DOD is closer to the worst case than the ideal. Congress should find a way to fully fund defense.
—Diem Nguyen Salmon is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
 U.S. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review 2014, March 2014, p. I, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf (accessed March 26, 2014). The Heritage Foundation understands that the QDR is not a strategy document. However, the Defense Department has been referring to the guidance set in this QDR as a “strategy.”
 U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/CFO, Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, March 2014, p. 14, http://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2015/fy2015_Budget_Request.pdf (accessed March 21, 2014).
 Ibid., p. 2.
 News release, “DoD Releases Fiscal 2015 Budget Proposal and 2014 QDR,” U.S. Department of Defense, March 4, 2014, http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=16567 (accessed March 21, 2014).
 U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/CFO, United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request Overview, March 2014, p. 2-1, http://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2015/fy2015_Budget_Request_Overview_Book.pdf (accessed March 21, 2014).
 U.S. Department of Defense, Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, p. 11, and U.S. Department of the Navy, Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget Estimates Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy, March 2014, p. 4–1, http://www.finance.hq.navy.mil/FMB/15pres/SCN_BOOK.pdf (accessed March 21, 2014).
 This is the amount originally requested in FY 2016 in the FY 2014 PBR to fund the midlife refueling of the USS George Washington.
 Department of Defense, Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, p. 11.
 See Dakota Wood, “Hagel’s Budget and the Real Threat to National Security,” The Heritage Foundation, The Foundry, February 26, 2014, http://blog.heritage.org/2014/02/26/hagels-budget-real-threat-national-security/.