Air Force to Continue ‘Zero-Based’ Budget Reviews

 In U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Air, Forces & Capabilities

Annual budget reviews insti­tut­ed by former Air Force Secretary Heather A. Wilson should make it easier to settle the hard finan­cial deci­sions that loom ahead, a top Air Force aide said Aug. 3.

Wilson, who served as sec­re­tary from 2017 to 2019, began a depart­ment-wide review in January 2018 to cut down on pro­grams and activ­i­ties worth less than $30 mil­lion apiece that no longer mer­it­ed fund­ing. It was the first such deep-dive in more than 20 years, Matthew P. Donovan, then the Air Force under­sec­re­tary, said at the time.

In February, the Air Force said its budget debate, known as a “zero-based review,” for 2021 came up with $4.1 bil­lion in spend­ing cuts over the next five years. Some of that money may have come from deci­sions to retire air­craft such as the B‑1 bomber, A‑10 attack plane, and RQ‑4 recon­nais­sance drone.

Anthony P. Reardon, admin­is­tra­tive assis­tant to Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett, indi­cat­ed those reviews will con­tin­ue under cur­rent ser­vice lead­er­ship. The dis­cus­sions are sim­i­lar to the Army’s “night court” reviews that look at ways to rein­vest money in higher ser­vice pri­or­i­ties.

“All the ‘zero-based’ reviews with Secretary Wilson, they were extreme­ly effec­tive,” Reardon said during an Air Force Association event. “I think we’ve built a process that’s iter­a­tive, so we do it every time now, maybe not to the full-up degree … but we get pretty close to it. So I think if we’re given time, that’s become the normal way of doing busi­ness now.”

As the Pentagon pre­pares for years of little budget growth, thanks to con­gres­sion­al spend­ing agree­ments and the unex­pect­ed expense of coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic relief efforts, the annual process of decid­ing how best to down­size can make stag­nant fund­ing more bear­able.

Budget plan­ning hap­pens on three levels now. The Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability office looks at what the ser­vice needs in its future force to suc­ceed, then pose that vision to the plan­ners, who figure out how to struc­ture port­fo­lios like pro­cure­ment and oper­a­tions. Program man­agers then try to work their ini­tia­tives into that bigger strate­gic pic­ture.

“Sometimes we get frus­trat­ed by bogeys when some­body comes for­ward and says, ‘I want you to cut this much out of your budget, I want you to move this much in this direc­tion.’ [It] makes it a little bit more chal­leng­ing,” Reardon said. “But I think the process­es that Secretary Wilson put in place are endur­ing process­es, and I think they’re going to make the budget devel­op­ment a little bit easier.”

This year’s budget process has also sped up to get ahead of the November pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and a pos­si­ble tran­si­tion of power in January, Reardon said.

The Air Force is prepar­ing its fiscal 2022 budget request, after asking for about $169 bil­lion in 2021. However, it’s likely the mil­i­tary will have to work under a con­tin­u­ing budget res­o­lu­tion start­ing Oct. 1 that holds it to 2020 spend­ing levels and blocks new pro­grams from start­ing until Congress passes fund­ing bills for the coming fiscal year.

Air Force Magazine source|articles

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