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​Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson speaks during a US military service chief panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Feb. 8, 2019, in Washington. YouTube screenshot.

The Defense Department’s three service Secretaries emphasized they need timely, reliable funding to build on the gains made in fiscal 2019, as the Trump administration’s fiscal 2020 budget appears set to come out more than a month after its legally mandated release date in early February.

During a Feb. 8 panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the $716 billion appropriated to the Pentagon for fiscal 2019 has made a “tremendous difference” to acquisition and training. Congress last fall passed a defense budget before Oct. 1 for the first time in a decade, breaking a cycle of continuing resolutions that have blocked DOD from starting new programs and slowed spending.

“I looked at our first-quarter results in the Air Force,” Wilson said. “We actually executed about a quarter of our budget in the first quarter of the year. We were able to do new starts of programs and cut contracts, and our flying hours in the first quarter were slightly above 100 percent of plan. That is tremendously important to continue to train the force.”

It’s still unclear how much money the Pentagon will seek for fiscal 2020, after the White House waffled between topline figures ranging from $700 billion to $750 billion.

Inside Defense reported Feb. 7 DOD’s upcoming Overseas Contingency Operations funding request could reach as high as $174 billion, more than double what it wanted for the current year. According to Seamus Daniels, a CSIS defense budget analyst, an OCO request that large would let the administration reach $750 billion in defense-wide spending without raising the defense budget cap set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which limits discretionary defense spending to $576 billion in fiscal 2020.

The giant OCO request is unlikely to gain traction in Congress, Daniels argues, partly because it signals the Trump administration may want to cut non-defense spending.

“If the request doesn't propose an increase in the defense budget cap, it most likely won't include an increase for discretionary non-defense spending, which is set at $542 billion for FY20,” he said on Twitter.

Recent news reports indicate the fiscal 2020 budget will be released in mid-March.