Navy aims to reduce end strength, cut higher education funding in new budget request

Dorothy S. Bass

The Navy is aiming to downsize its end strength and cut its higher education funding, while bolstering funds for mental health and sexual assault prevention, according to the fiscal 2022 budget request released Friday.

“Our focus remains to recruit, develop and retain the optimal mix of personnel with the right skills and experience to man the fleet,” according to the budget document.

The Navy said it is requesting funds to support an active duty end strength of 346,200 personnel in FY22 — 56,020 officers, 285,830 enlisted personnel and 4,350 midshipmen. The request is a decrease of 1,600 active duty personnel in comparison to FY21.

“This end strength level aligns with force structure requirements and maintains a force that can fight and win,” the budget request reads. “We continue to retain the very best with special and incentive pays, as well as upwardly mobile career tracks.”

According to the Navy, the smaller end strength request reflects force structure changes like the decommissioning of 15 ships, including the recent decommissioning of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which was destroyed in a massive fire in July 2020.

“These reductions are partially offset by new construction crews on various platforms including Virginia class submarines and Arleigh Burke class destroyers,” the budget request document said.

The Navy is also requesting to cut 200 personnel to the reserve force, which primarily come from helicopter mine countermeasures, helicopter maritime strike and helicopter sea combat squadrons, the Navy said.

Higher education funding is also taking a hit in the proposed budget.

Altogether, the Department of the Navy is requesting $498 million in higher education funding — a drop from the $615 million that was enacted in FY21.

That’s because the Navy’s Education for Seapower strategy has come under internal scrutiny and an expansion in funds for the campaign in the last budget was taken out of the FY22 request, the Navy said. Then-Secretary of the Navy Secretary Richard Spencer unveiled the Education for Seapower campaign in 2019 as part of an effort to enhance the service’s intellectual advancement.

At the time, Spencer hoped the program would combine the education efforts for enlisted and officer personnel under a single Department of the Navy university accredited to grant diplomas, from associate degrees up to advanced post-graduate work.

“Resources were balanced to ensure FY 2022 educational requirements are met,” the budget request document said. “Programs that decrease include the United States Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, and Naval War College.”

The aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman transits the Elizabeth River on May 12, 2021, as it departs Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., after completing a 10-month scheduled extended carrier incremental availability. (MC2 Class Steven Edgar/U.S. Navy)

Other educational funding efforts are growing. For example, the Navy wants to increase funding for the Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Naval Community College in comparison to the enacted budget in FY21. This year, the budget includes $164 million for ROTC programs, and under the proposed budget that would grow to $167 million in fiscal 2022.

Additionally, $13 million in funding is requested for the Naval Community College in FY22, up from the $9 million approved for this year. The Naval Community College kicked off its pilot program in January for nearly 600 students from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, and is slated to conduct another round of the pilot program in 2022.

“In FY22, the effort will expand to include up to 5,000 students,” Navy Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, told reporters Friday.

The budget request also includes a boost in funding for sexual assault prevention and response programs, as well as mental health programs.

The request includes $131 million for sexual assault prevention and response funding — a 56 percent increase over the $84 million in this year’s budget — to go toward items including victims’ legal counsel, SAPR officers and headquarters’ staff.

Furthermore, the budget also seeks $44 million for mental health funding, more than double the $21 million included in the FY21 budget. The funds would go toward virtual mental health initiatives, expanded drug and alcohol counselor training, additional mental health staffing across the Department of the Navy, and information technology modernization and upgrades, among other things.

Of all the services, the Department of the Navy has the largest proposed budget, amounting to $211.7 billion — an overall increase of $3.8 billion, or 1.8 percent, in comparison to this year.

That includes a request for eight ships — two Virginia-class attack submarines, one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and one Constellation-class frigate — along with four other support ships.

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