JUST IN: Army Secretary Says ‘Night Court’ is Here to Stay

By Connie Lee
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy

Photo: GW Project for Media & National Security

The Army’s top civilian said the service plans to continue cutting programs to find funding for its top modernization priorities.

Last year, following a deep-dive program review by leadership known as the "night court" process, the service announced that it realigned over $30 billion in its future years defense program for fiscal years 2020 through 2024 to invest in long-range precision fires, future vertical lift, next-generation combat vehicles, the network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality. It resulted in cutbacks for lower priority efforts. 

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said the night court is here to stay.

“We're going to have to do night court whether I'm in this job or not,” McCarthy said Jan. 15 at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, D.C.

McCarthy said upcoming budget decisions will focus on the current modernization programs. The service must ensure that its prototyping and demonstration efforts are successful, he noted.

The Army has been investing in its technology priorities by using other transaction authority agreements, which allow the Defense Department to cut through bureaucratic red tape and do rapid prototyping and follow-on production as long as there is industry competition.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2021 budget request for the military is slated to be released next month. 

"If you go back to the '19, '20 [budget realignment] experiences, they were far more aggressive because you had to reshape your portfolio,” McCarthy said. “If you were to look at those decisions that were made then to now, over half of our RDA — research, development and acquisition — account is going towards new capabilities. … This [upcoming 2021] budget is the refinements of those decisions.”

However, this does not mean the service won’t be truncating or cutting programs in the next budget request, he noted. McCarthy declined to identify how many programs will be affected.

“There were some hard choices,” he said. “There were some cuts. You’ll see that here in a couple of weeks.”

If prototype efforts for the Army's top modernization programs bear fruit, the service may need to realign more money as they move forward in the procurement process.

“If we're successful … in those 18 months, then harder choices are coming again,” he said.

Noting that Congress has asked for more specificity on the service’s night court process, McCarthy said: “We owe them that.”

The Senate version of the 2020 defense appropriations bill expressed lawmakers’ concerns that “continued, wide-ranging truncation or elimination of programs without notification to the congressional defense committees in advance of the subsequent budget submission leads to inefficiencies and misappropriation of resources.”

“So much about the budget is about trust,” McCarthy said. “It’s changing the behavior of the Army to be more conscious of every dollar that we get from the taxpayer.”

Each of the services will once again be vying for a large slice of the fiscal pie as the 2021 budgeting process unfolds. The day before McCarthy met with reporters, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday called for a higher budget topline for the sea service rather than the one-third, one-third, one-third split that has often been dolled out to the departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force, respectively. The Navy needs more money to carry out its responsibilities outlined in the National Defense Strategy, Gilday said.

McCarthy said the Army’s share is now closer to 24 percent.

“I don't want to get in fights with other services about topline budgets,” he said. “Everybody needs budget increases year over year ... but it is not a one-third, one-third, one-third split. Not even close.”

Topics: Defense Department

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