Navy Comptroller Worried How to Pay Sailors, Marines if Congress Doesn’t Pass Next CR

October 18, 2023 2:23 PM
Sailors man the rails on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) on its return to home port. Nimitz returns to its home port in Bremerton, Wash. following a seven-month deployment to U.S. 3rd and 7th Fleet areas of operations (AO) on July 2, 2023. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s comptroller said he is “constantly worried” about being able to pay sailors, Marines and civilians if Congress fails to pass at least another stopgap gap spending bill next month, and for Navy programs if a full year’s budget is not passed by the new year.

Russell Rambaugh said Monday, “We’re consciously living in a CR [continuing resolution]; we’re not sure where we’re going to go” if Congress fails to either extend it or approve the full budget. The president’s request for the Navy in Fiscal Year 2024 is for $255.8 billion, a 4.5 percent increase over the previous year’s budget.

He added that a provision in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 to raise the debt ceiling calls for a 1.5% across-the-board cuts if a full budget is not signed into law by Jan. 1.

“I have no choice,” Rambaugh said at the Stimson Center event. He estimated the sequestration at $15 billion. He added he expected to be able to take military pay “off the table’’ in discussion of what must be cut under the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

After that, “it doesn’t take much thinking.”

Even if another continuing resolution to pay bills at the FY 2023 level was approved, it puts severe restraints on new program starts – such as the second Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine – until a full year’s appropriations bill is signed.

As USNI News reported, Congress’ last-minute approval of the limited spending bill this month did include $621 million to keep the construction of the future USS Wisconsin (SSBN-827) on track.

That provision gives “more certainty” to the Navy’s number one spending priority – the replacement of the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine fleet, he added.

Rumbaugh called the continuing resolution process “a little bit nuts,” but a mechanism that Congress has increasingly used because it cannot pass the full year’s appropriations on time. The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Reflecting continuing resolutions’ restraints on what should be routine transactions, Rumbaugh said his financial management team is being asked, “Why are you letting the contract in October when we’re not sure we have the money?”

He asked rhetorically, “what’s the topline” for Navy Department spending. Citing the original request, “we’re hoping there’s an increase” in approved overall spending. Rumbaugh noted there are already moves inside the administration and on Capitol Hill to pass supplemental spending bills to cover expenses for Ukraine, Taiwan and now Israel.

When questioned about the use of the Presidential Drawdown Authority, Rumbaugh said “it has worked very, very well” in quickly getting needed equipment and ammunition to Ukraine.

Several times during the presentation, he stressed “executability” as key to Navy programs, now and in the future. “We’re going to need scale and quantity,” such as having shipyards deliver the two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and two Virginia-class submarines.

Rumbaugh cited two, small internal initiatives, at about $11 million each, that can show Congress the service can save money and improve safety, such as the “risk management information initiative” that takes deep dives into safety reports and “maritime time tactical command and control” to improve navigation. Successes in such programs can lead to Congress approving a similar initiative.

Although “we’re having some success … We have a long way to go” to become an organization that is truly auditable, as Congress has called for.
“We’re an accountable organization” when it comes to spending money.

As an example of accountability, Rumbaugh said the Navy has gotten better at getting rid of expired and unused funds through quarterly meetings by using data analytics.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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