* Plan seeks $2.4 billion to begin U.S. base closure process
* Includes $88.5 billion for Afghan war, overseas operations
* Budget starting point for negotiations, unlikely to pass
By David Alexander and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, April 10 The Pentagon offered up a
$526.6 billion budget on Wednesday that calls for closing bases,
slashing the civilian workforce and scrapping weapons programs,
holding out hope the U.S. Congress might still opt for an
alternative to even more draconian cuts already on their way.
President Barack Obama's proposed Pentagon budget for the
2014 fiscal year asks Congress to take a series of politically
difficult steps, including starting a new round of U.S. base
closure proceedings, increasing healthcare fees for military
retirees and slowing military pay increases.
Defense officials said the department also planned to reduce
its civilian workforce by 40,000 to 50,000 over five years and
take new steps to reduce the cost of healthcare, including
overhauling military treatment facilities.
"The costs of infrastructure, overhead, acquisitions and
personnel compensation must be addressed in order to put the
Department of Defense's budget on a sustainable path -
particularly given the pressures on our top-line budget,"
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a budget briefing.
The budget is part of Obama's spending plan sent to
Congress. It stands little chance of being enacted into law and
is meant to serve largely as a negotiating tool with
Republicans, who have outlined budget proposals of their own.
The budget proposal included $88.5 billion for the war in
Afghanistan and other overseas operations, the same amount as
requested last year. Comptroller Robert Hale said the figure was
a placeholder and would ultimately be somewhat lower, but still
high because of the cost of removing equipment from Afghanistan.
The Defense Department is in the midst of a long-term budget
drawdown after a decade of increases. It began implementing $487
billion in cuts to proposed spending in 2012 and was hit by an
additional $500 billion over a decade starting on March 1.
Obama's proposed Pentagon budget is still $52 billion higher
than spending caps set by law, which is likely to mean another
year of financial uncertainty for the department.
While looking for ways to cut back in the current tight
fiscal environment, the 2014 Pentagon budget would continue to
fund high-priority programs and initiatives, including the
strategic "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific announced last year.
$8.4 BILLION FOR JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER
The budget includes $8.4 billion for continued development
of the three variants of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's most expensive procurement
It also includes $10.9 billion for new ship construction,
$9.2 billion for missile defenses, $379 million for development
of a new long-range bomber, $4.7 billion for cyberspace
operations and $10.1 billion for space technologies. It aims to
save $9.9 billion by restructuring and canceling arms
"This budget made important investments in the president's
new strategic guidance - including rebalancing to the
Asia-Pacific region and increasing funding for critical
capabilities such as cyber, special operations and global
mobility," Hagel said in a statement.
Obama's overall federal budget plan seeks new taxes and
spending cuts that aim to replace the automatic,
across-the-board reductions known as sequestration that went
into effect on March 1. The Pentagon's share of the March 1 cuts
is about $500 billion over 10 years, or about $50 billion a
The president's budget proposal unveiled on Wednesday would
replace the $500 billion sequestration cut with a $150 billion
reduction, most of it spread over a five-year period beginning
several years from now. Some $34 billion in cuts would be
implemented over the next five years.
The proposal depends on Congress agreeing to eliminate the
sequestration budget cuts. The White House and Republicans have
been trying for two years to reach a deal to eliminate
sequestration, without success.
The Pentagon budget asks Congress to begin a new round of
U.S. Base Realignment and Closure proceedings, a politically
unpopular request that was rejected by lawmakers last year and
has already produced hearings this year, even before the
decision was announced.
The budget request includes $2.4 billion over the next five
years to pay for the process. Base closures disrupt local
economies and cost a huge amount upfront, saving money only over
the long run.
Based on estimates from the last round of base closures that
started in 2005, the Pentagon is believed to have more than 20
percent surplus of infrastructure.
The 2014 budget renews a request to Congress for increased
fees for pharmacy co-pays and healthcare enrollment for retired
military personnel. The Pentagon also proposed a 1 percent pay
increase for military employees, lower than the 1.8 percent
increase in the Employment Cost Index ordinarily used to
determine pay increases.
Congress has been resistant in the past to increasing
healthcare fees for military retirees and has often approved pay
increases above those recommended by the department, a factor
analysts say has led to military pay rising at an unsustainable
pace over the past decade.