Since our founding, the United States of America has always been a maritime nation. For hundreds of years, the sea has proved a vital artery of American prosperity, fueling our economic engine by allowing us to engage in commerce on a global scale. We rely on our world’s oceans for food, for natural resources, for the transportation of goods and people, and more recently to carry vast amounts of data via undersea cables. To maintain our nation’s unrestricted access to sea, and to guarantee the free flow of maritime commerce for ourselves, our allies and our international partners, our nation requires a capable, agile, and lethal Navy and Marine Corps.
Further congressional inaction puts the Department of the Navy — and our nation’s unrestricted access — under a real and substantial threat.
When I became the 78th secretary of the Navy over two years ago, I made a commitment to the American people that I would passionately advocate for and strenuously defend our nation’s naval services. That includes communicating our nation’s requirement for a well-funded Navy and Marine Corps to Congress, as well as the impacts of failing to pass our budget in a timely manner.
For fiscal 2024, President Joe Biden requested a 4.5% increase in funding for the Department of the Navy, providing us with nearly $255 billion to ensure our Navy and Marine Corps are properly manned, trained and equipped. This budget provides the right mix of personnel, platforms and capabilities to ensure freedom of the seas, deter our adversaries and, if necessary, be victorious in combat.
However, as we enter the third month of the new fiscal year, Congress has yet to pass the Department of Defense’s annual budget.
While Congress should be commended for working in a bipartisan manner to thus far avoid a painful and disastrous government shutdown, the Department of the Navy is now working under a cloud of uncertainty due to the temporary nature of our appropriations. Holding our funding at prior year levels — as this temporary measure does — prevents us from adequately responding to the pacing challenge of the People’s Republic of China, supporting our Ukrainian partners in their conflict with Russia to restore their national and territorial sovereignty, or dealing with the crises in the Middle East, where the U.S. Navy destroyers Carney and Thomas Hudner recently shot down several missiles and drones launched by Iranian-aligned groups in Yemen, and where the U.S. Navy destroyer Mason was called upon to protect merchant traffic from piracy.
As perilous as the current state of affairs may seem, things might soon get dramatically and demonstrably worse with sequestration. If any agency of the federal government remains under a continuing resolution come January, the Department of the Navy will face a $15 billion cut to the FY23 spending levels we are still operating under — well below what we need to man, train and equip our Navy and Marine Corps today.
In 2013, we saw the disastrous consequences sequestration then had on our fleet due to an approximately 7% cut to our maintenance and operations budgets. Due to those funding restrictions, the Navy cut critical training for our sailors and maintenance on our ships, submarines and aircraft — deficits from which we are still recovering.
Within a few years of these cuts, our department mourned the loss of the 17 sailors who were killed during the collisions involving the destroyers McCain and Fitzgerald. Several reviews tied these two tragic incidents to the sequester fiscal constraints mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and Congress’ failure to produce predictable, consistent and sustainable funding. Should sequestration once again strike the Department of the Navy, our safety and readiness will suffer anew.
Moreover, under sequestration we would cut the procurement of ships, aircraft and munitions. The Department of the Navy may even be forced to reconsider the cost-saving multiyear procurement contracts we have signed or may sign with our industry partners. These large, multibillion-dollar investments in the future of our fleet and our force are where I will direct cuts so as to avoid reducing the pay and quality-of-life benefits on which our sailors, Marines and their families rely, or the operations and training necessary to ensure they are ready to execute their assigned missions.
And yet things might get even worse. The Department of the Navy has never had to operate under a full-year continuing resolution, a previously unthinkable legislative outcome growing more likely and ominous with each passing day. Under a full-year continuing resolution, many programs would be either over-funded or underfunded, resulting in $28 billion we cannot use for its intended purpose. We would be forced to make extraordinarily hard choices to the detriment of our sailors and Marines deployed across the globe.
I would also have to consider cutting a portion of the funding for programs and initiatives added by Congress to our FY23 budget — items that neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps requested.
Our country faces several significant global challenges, and the American people expect our Navy and Marine Corps to be ready to respond in defense of our national interests. We are a maritime nation, and Congress has a constitutional duty to resource our Navy and Marine Corps, ensuring we remain the world’s premier naval services. I urge every member of Congress to take immediate action to prevent devastating budget cuts that have historically resulted in disastrous consequences.
U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro took on his role Aug. 9, 2021.