The commandant of the Marine Corps said he's worried ongoing budget uncertainty will cause rank-and-file servicemembers to flee the military for more stable work environments.
Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Coastguardsmen need to see the same level of commitment from leaders in Washington that they show to their country, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said at an event in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. If not, troops could get fed up and leave the service.
“They're going to say, 'You know what? I need to have more certainty in my life,' ” Neller said at the event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute. “'I commit my life to this organization. … I need the nation to commit to support me.'”
DoD doesn't just need a budget for this fiscal year, he added, but one that allows the Pentagon to plan years in advance. The military is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR) nearly four months into FY 2018, which caps spending at 2017 levels.
“How do you plan?” Neller asked. “You can't start new programs under a CR; you can't take a longer view; you have to write a contract [but] can't write a new contract. You actually need … a multiyear budget.”
CRs come with many unintended consequences, the commandant said. It makes it difficult to address readiness, and service leaders can't sign new contracts for equipment - even if vendors say they can save millions by committing to a multiyear plan.
“You're going, 'Yeah, that's a pretty good deal,' ” Neller said. “But if we don't have more than a one-year look, the service, the service secretary, they can't commit to that.”
Marines never used to ask about money, he said, joking that leathernecks know if you don't ask for something, you can't be disappointed when you don't get it. After the recent government shutdown and years of CRs, that has changed.
“Marines are asking, 'What's going on, general? What's going on with this budget? Are we going to get paid? Are we going to be able to get this? Are we going to be able to buy this? You said we were going to do this, are we still going to be able to do that?' ” Neller said. “And this is from sergeants.”
Neller said he has “tempered hopefulness” Congress will pass a 2018 budget passed before federal spending runs out again Feb. 8. But his service's spending and planning habits have been disrupted for too long as lawmakers battle over budgets far into every fiscal year. “It's really not the way you want to run an operation,” he said.
“Congress knows that, and I'm not here to beat them up,” Neller said. “They've got some tough work to do, but they've got to get it done.”
For today's generation of servicemembers, all they've known is sustained conflict and budget uncertainty, says Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), MOAA's vice president of government relations.
“Congress needs to put aside its partisan differences and pass a budget that allows DoD to properly train and equip its most valuable assets, the men and women in uniform,” Merry says.