Before Defense Bill Goes to House Floor, Intense Lobbying to Reform, Reduce Pentagon Spending

Diverse Coalitions Target Pentagon Budget Topline, F-35, Pentagon Audit, Military Bases, Extra Ships

In advance of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) being considered on the House floor this week, over a dozen organizations representing taxpayers, libertarians, veterans, human needs and anti-war advocates have sent a letter to Congress urging it to tackle runaway spending at the Pentagon. A majority of Americans support reducing, not increasing, Pentagon spending, according to recent polling.

The letter, which was sent to every member of the House of Representatives earlier this afternoon, was signed by 14 organizations from both sides of the aisle including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Council for a Livable World, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Coalition on Human Needs, Win Without War (which represents a coalition including MoveOn, Credo Action and others), National Coalition for the Homeless, United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society, Center for International Policy, FreedomWorks, Taxpayers Institute of America and The Libertarian Institute.

“Budgets necessitate tradeoffs. Pentagon spending increases shortchange other important priorities, from domestic needs including education, health and nutrition and affordable housing, to paying down the national debt. Further increasing the Pentagon’s budget by tens of billions of dollars without a clear strategy will do little to solve national security challenges. Rather, it will simply guarantee further wasteful spending at the Pentagon,” reads the letter. “We hope that you will oppose any attempts to increase the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2018.”

“Ranking Member Adam Smith of Washington hit the nail on the head: The House Armed Services Committee is authorizing funds with no sense of budget limits, no sense of priorities and no relation to the budget caps,” says John Isaacs, senior fellow at the Council for a Livable World, in reference to Congressman Smith’s remarks about the need to make budget choices at the Pentagon.

This letter opposing increases in the Pentagon topline builds on weeks of intense lobbying and letters from a diverse range of outside voices urging cost-saving Pentagon reforms that would improve national, fiscal and/or social security. These include a bipartisan letter signed by 48 experts urging a new round of base realignment and closures (BRAC), a letter opposing a block buy of the troubled F-35 weapons system, a letter demanding transparency about the cost of the B-21 stealth bomber, and a concerted grassroots movement in support of efforts to force the Pentagon to pass a clean audit. There has also been significant activity to rein in the misuse of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account as a means of subverting accountable budgeting processes and spending caps mandated by law and to oppose increasing the number of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), as the current House version of the NDAA seeks to do.

“Offering an amendment to reduce the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) buy shouldn’t be contentious. The Government Accountability Office has issued multiple reports, raising red flags about the program: from ongoing mechanical and performance problems to questions about the ship’s role in Naval strategy. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office has recommended cancelling the program in order to reduce deficit spending. National Taxpayers Union (NTU) has long advocated cancelling, reducing, or at the very least pausing the program over these very concerns,” explains Nan Swift, National Taxpayers Union Federal Affairs Manager. “It’s troubling that taxpayers are repeatedly forced to foot the bill for such ill-planned and unreliable products. We strongly urge Congress to reconsider planned LCS purchases, along with the new frigate program essentially based on the failed LCS design.”

“With the iteration of the defense authorization bills and appropriations bill adopted in committee last month, Congress is moving our national defenses in the exact wrong direction. The Pentagon has been drowning in money for over fifteen years. Throwing more money at it will only trap it deeper in its problems. The lifeboats that the Pentagon needs to right-size itself are reforms. It must move away from troubled systems like the F-35, the Littoral Combat System and the Ford Aircraft Carrier whose technical limitations and exploding costs are proving to be albatrosses around the Pentagon’s neck and it must embrace efficiencies like BRAC to lighten its load,” explains Dan Grazier, a former Marine Corps captain and expert in Pentagon spending with the Project on Government Oversight’s (POGO) Straus Military Reform Project. “Rather than continue on the same troubled path of spending more and more money for fewer results, Congress must work with the Pentagon to scale back funds and set priorities. This path, which Congress walked away from last week, offers the only safe passage to a solvent Pentagon and a more secure country.”

“The administration’s Pentagon budget proposal — which is $54 billion above the levels allowed under current law — is more than enough to protect the country. According to recent polling, the majority of the American public agrees, preferring a $41 billion cut to a $54 billion increase. Even before the administration’s proposed increase, we were spending more than at the height of the Reagan buildup of the 1980s,” explains William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy and author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. “The fact that many members of Congress want to push Pentagon spending even higher represents an irresponsible waste of taxpayer dollars.  From excess bureaucracy to overpaying for goods and services to throwing money at unneeded weapons systems, there are tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending that should be eliminated before the Pentagon gets any more funding. The Pentagon doesn’t need more spending — it needs more spending discipline.”

Meanwhile, human needs organizations have been lobbying Members of Congress to oppose Pentagon spending increases that may decrease security and quality of life for most Americans while domestic spending priorities that contribute to these priorities are eviscerated.

 

The full text of the letter is below or online here:

Dear Representative,

As organizations representing Americans across the political spectrum, we are writing to voice our strong opposition to attempts by Members of Congress to increase the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2018 budget above both the budget caps set by the Budget Control Act and the President’s budget request. The Pentagon is currently funded at a higher level than at almost any time since World War II[1], and the budget problems it faces should be solved by better fiscal management, not by adding more money to an already bloated and wasteful department.

The challenges facing our military are partially the result of years of failing to make the necessary, tough choices our nation’s security requires. Rather than prioritizing basic needs of the warfighter, lawmakers have pursued huge, expensive weapons systems that fail to meet technical specifications and may never be ready for combat[2]. Waste and unnecessary overhead abound, with a Defense Business Board study showing that the Department of Defense could save up to $125 billion over five years just by eliminating excess bureaucracy and inefficiencies[3].

Claims of a so-called “readiness crisis” are exaggerated. As former DoD Comptroller Robert Hale said in February, these claims are just the services “putting their worst foot forward” in the hopes of securing funding increases.[4] General David Petraeus has also said that this idea of a readiness crisis is a myth[5]. By opposing important cost-saving measures like base realignment and closure which could save several billion dollars a year just by closing excess infrastructure[6], Congress is demonstrating that it is not prioritizing fiscal responsibility or making the choices that will actually keep us safe. Moreover, the Pentagon cannot be sure what it is spending as it is the only federal agency that has never passed an audit.

Budgets necessitate tradeoffs. Pentagon spending increases shortchange other important priorities, from domestic needs including education, health and nutrition and affordable housing, to paying down the national debt. Further increasing the Pentagon’s budget by tens of billions of dollars without a clear strategy will do little to solve national security challenges. Rather, it will simply guarantee further wasteful spending at the Pentagon. We hope that you will oppose any attempts to increase the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2018.

Sincerely,
American Friends Service Committee
Center for International Policy
Coalition on Human Needs
Council for a Livable World
FreedomWorks
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Iraq Veterans Against the War
National Coalition for the Homeless
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Taxpayers United of America
The Libertarian Institute
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Win Without War
Women’s Action for New Directions

[1] Center for Strategic and International Studies, Analysis of the FY 2017 Defense Budget
[2] Project on Government Oversight, F-35 May Never Be Ready for Combat
[6] Cato Institute, An Open Letter on BRAC