WASHINGTON: When Navy leadership briefed out their fiscal 2023 budget request on Monday, they proudly pointed out that the service plans to buy nine new ships in the coming fiscal year. Except it turns out that nine ship buy is actually an eight ship buy — and the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is already calling the Navy out and warning that their budget request might actually break the law.
At issue is the amphibious assault ship LHA-9, and a repeated attempt by the service to claim it as a new production in multiple fiscal years. LHA-9 was approved by Congress back in FY20, but in the FY21 request, the Navy listed it as a new ship being added to the fleet.
The ambiguous accounting for new warships — government assets that costs billions in taxpayer dollars and provide jobs across the country — was not well received in Congress, and that anger translated into a provision in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that effectively told the Navy not to pull a stunt like that again. (And the service heeded that directive in its FY22 budget request.)
That the Navy is once again counting LHA-9 as a new ship isn’t sitting well with at least one influential member of the SASC. The Navy’s move may have been poor judgement or an unfortunate oversight a few years ago, but the Navy trying the same move with LHA-9 is now a “violation of law,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member on SASC, tweeted Monday.
It’s unclear why the Navy would double-count LHA-9 once again. A service spokeswoman had not responded to questions from Breaking Defense about the senator’s comments as of press time.
What’s worse than @POTUS‘s budget only proposing to build 9 Navy warships (while retiring 24)? One of these new ships double-counts a ship previously authorized by Congress (and doing so is a violation of law).
— Sen. Jim Inhofe (@JimInhofe) March 28, 2022
But there are two factors that mean Congress may rake service leadership over the coals on this issue.
First, lawmakers these days are intensely focused on the number of ships in the Navy’s fleet, for better or worse. Those in Congress who desperately want to see the fleet grow are certain to take Navy brass to task during hearings if service leadership claim to be seeking nine new warships, when they’re effectively asking for less – especially this year given the service’s request to decommission two dozen vessels.
Second, there is the matter of Congress wanting its authorities recognized. Trying to slip something by members when they have expressly told you not to do something is often a ticket to a rough series of hearings.
“Congress may consider the impact this issue might have regarding the preservation and use of Congress’s power of the purse under Article 1 of the Constitution, and for maintaining Congress as a coequal branch of government relative to the executive branch,” Ron O’Rourke, a naval analyst with the Congressional Research Service, wrote in December 2021 of the issue. (CRS famously does not provide answers or opinions about the issues but just strives to help lawmakers understand what is happening and what questions they might want to ask.)
The Pentagon published only a limited amount of materials routinely associated with the budget yesterday. The justification documents, which provide narrative explanations of each program as well as the specific funding requested, have not been released yet.
A congressional aide suggested one resolution to the issue may be the Navy revises its detailed justification documents before formally sending them to lawmakers. Either way, don’t expect lawmakers to play along with the ambiguous numbers when it comes time to draft the next defense policy bill, the aide said — a not-so-subtle reminder that at the end of the day, Congress gets to decide what the Navy ends up with.
Navy’s shipbuilding request may be ‘violation of law,’ Inhofe warns is written by Justin Katz for breakingdefense.com