Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert made the decision to pull $796 million in line item funding to refuel the USS George Washington from a list of unfunded priorities the Pentagon sent to Congress, the U.S. Naval Institute reported.
Following the yearly defense budget submission, the Pentagon regularly sends Congress an unfunded priorities list of items not covered in the budget proposal. The idea is to give Congress an indication of where they might put any additional dollars -- should they become available.
A specific listing of funding for long-lead items for the USS George Washington was placed on an early draft of the list and then subsequently removed, according to USNI.
The USNI report quotes a March 31 letter from Greenert to Congress spelling out his rationale for removing the item from the unfunded priorities list.
"I have not included specific funding in the [Fiscal Year] 2015 budget for the USS George Washington refueling overhaul," the letter states.
The Navy has said it would like to keep the USS George Washington in active service for another 25 years, which would keep the service’s carrier fleet at 11.
However, Navy senior leaders have also said that decisions about funding the mid-life refueling and overhaul for the George Washington -- something which is necessary for the carrier to continue with another 25 years of service life -- will need to be deferred for another year.
If sequestration levels of spending return in 2016, as is currently the law under the Budget Control Act, then the Navy will not be able to afford the five-year, $7 billion effort needed to refuel the carrier, senior leaders have said.
Greenert addresses these points in his letter to Congress, saying the decision about whether to refuel the carrier hinges upon the fiscal outlook in 2016 and beyond.
"This unfunded transcends FY 2015 -- it is a Future Year Defense Program requirement. Retaining this aircraft carrier would require $7 billion across our FYDP. Thus, the decision to refuel or inactivate CVN-73 is dependent upon the fiscal outlook in FY 2016 and beyond, and whether we will be forced to return to sequestration levels [of funding]," the letter states, according to USNI.
According to these and other comments from senior Navy officials, the USS George Washington will be refueled and kept in service if sequestration is avoided or ended in 2016. Conversely, a return to sequestration levels of funding in 2016 means the aircraft carrier would be retired.
Keeping the dollars for the refueling and overhaul off of the unfunded priorities list seems to make the equation or circumstance more clear, essentially suggesting that continued sequestration means no carrier.
At the same time, it would also appear that placing the unfunded priority dollars on the list would leave the door open for Congress to explore potential scenarios wherein funding options for the carrier could be explored within the framework of sequestration.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@monster.com.