WASHINGTON — The House and Senate approved a stopgap spending bill Dec. 3 that funds the U.S. government until Feb. 18. By passing a “continuing resolution,” Congress averted a government shutdown and federal agencies can continue to operate at last year’s funding levels. 

U.S. government funding by CR instead of Congress passing full-year appropriations has been more the norm than the exception over the past decade, which is “very unfortunate,” U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in a Dec. 2 interview with SpaceNews. 

Kendall, the top civilian leader of the Department of the Air Force, oversees both the Air Force and the Space Force. One of the most detrimental impacts of CRs is that new procurement programs cannot be started, and research-and-development projects that might be ready to go into production cannot move forward, Kendall said. 

This is particularly bad news for the Air Force and Space Force which are seeking to modernize legacy systems with new technology to compete with China, Kendall said. Some programs for which DoD sought increased funding will remain in limbo, and in the process “we’re giving away time to our adversaries.”

The Dec. 3 spending measure is the second CR Congress approved since the start of the current fiscal year Oct. 1. The pitched political battles fought to get these CRs passed suggest Congress is unlikely to approve full-year appropriations for the remainder of fiscal year 2021 by the time the current CR expires Feb. 18.

“A one-year CR would be devastating,” said Kendall. 

The Pentagon has given up on the idea that Congress will pass spending bills on time every year but when CRs go longer than a quarter, chaos kicks in, “We plan for them at least for the first quarter,” said Kendall. “We try to not award new contracts, we accommodated that reality to some extent.”

While operating under a CR, “we burn up time without moving forward, that’s an irrecoverable loss,” said Kendall. “We’re in a race, and giving time to your adversaries is not a good thing to do.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...