Congress is always on the Pentagon’s case about overdue homework, but the sequestration-induced breakdown of the budget process over the last seven months has left the Defense Department even further behind than usual. Now the 2014 budget request is finally out — albeit already overtaken by events — and the Senate and House are scrambling to hold one hearing after another. To do their job, they need data the Pentagon hasn’t gotten to them yet: In this case, the Navy’s legally mandated Annual Naval Vessel Construction Plan.
The chairman and top Democrat on the Seapower panel of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Randy Forbes and Rep. Mike McIntyre, are about to send Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a terribly polite note asking the Navy to produce the plan before Wednesday, when the subcommittee will hold its hearing on the services’ budget. (Click “download this document” to read the letter).
The number and types of ships the Navy builds is a closely watched metric of the nation’s naval strength, frequently tossed around in partisan battles. That’s particularly true since January 2012, when the administration announced its now-infamous “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific, which as the world’s largest body of water puts a strategic premium on warships, and lots of them. Lately Congress has ordered the Navy not to get rid of aging ships ahead of schedule to save money, and such retirements are another part of the report.