SALT LAKE CITY — Budget debates in Washington, D.C., are causing anxiety among some military leaders in Utah.
As Congress works to negotiate and pass a new budget for the coming year, military officials at Hill Air Force Base are expressing concern about whether they will have the financial resources necessary to do their jobs effectively.
During a conference call Wednesday, top officers at the state's largest military installation voiced their apprehension about the state of budgetary uncertainty the base is facing as lawmakers in the nation's capital consider the president's budget proposal.
Earlier this month, Congress sent President Donald Trump a defense authorization bill of almost $700 billion for his signature. However, if spending caps imposed under the Budget Control Act are not eliminated, the maximum amount for defense spending will be capped at $549 billion — far below what some military leaders say is needed to perform their duties and the maintenance necessary for effective operation.
Col. Jennifer Hammerstedt, commander of the 75th Air Base Wing at Hill Air Force Base, said anything short of the requested amount would require significant adjustments and tough choices for senior military leaders.
"We'll have to start making decisions about whether we modernize, reduce the number of airplanes that we purchase (or) cut into infrastructure (improvements)," she explained. "Where do we want to make up that difference?"
Lt. Col. Scott Creswell, 75th Comptroller Squadron commander, said the Air Force has asked for $134 billion for 2018, and there is not a lot of "pork" in that request.
"That is what the Air Forces feels is needed to operate and execute our mission," he said. The mission is, of course, to protect the interests of the United States and its citizens.
Officials said the Budget Control Act caps would lead to an approximately $5 billion reduction in Air Force readiness programs and weapon system sustainment accounts, resulting in less funding for the Ogden Air Logistics Complex budget and production plan.
The complex employs more than 8,800 workers and is one of the Department of Defense's largest industrial facilities. The complex provides logistics, support, maintenance and distribution for the F-35 Lightning II, F-22 Raptor, F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt as part of its national defense mission. In addition, the complex maintains the C-130 Hercules, T-38 Talon and other weapon systems, as well as the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
Brig. Gen. Stacey Hawkins, commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, said a shortfall would impact his unit's ability to hire the workforce necessary to serve all of its logistics support missions.
"We need to hire commensurately with those increasing demands," he said. "So if we don't get the budget that's been requested by the president, then we have to take measures to slow our rate of hiring and slow our rate of materials purchased in order to be able to perform those workloads that are asked of us."Comment on this story
Congress has kept the government functioning financially through a continuing resolution since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. The current resolution expires on Dec. 8 and caps spending at the prior year’s levels or until approval of a final defense appropriations budget.
At Hill, leaders are hoping for approval of adequate budgetary funding to allow them to operate their respective units as effectively as possible. Knowing how much funding will be available for the coming year would allow military leaders to prioritize in the most efficient manner, Hammerstedt said.
"We are planning (for any eventuality)," she said. "But certainly, if you knew your annual budget, you could be a lot more effective."