Lawmakers should look very closely at the latest Pentagon funding request.
We’re on to you.
By Ryan Alexander
This week, the administration released budget details of the $5 billion “amendment” to its request for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations to “degrade and ultimately defeat” the Islamic State group. The request also included about a half a billion in additional funds for the Department of State. Add that to the most current Overseas Contingency Operations request of $58.6 billion and you have a grand total of $63.6 billion in extra cash requested for Pentagon programs.
Interestingly, this is a fairly modest request. (“Modest” being a relative term when we are talking about Pentagon budgets.) But it is worth noting that just a few weeks ago the Pentagon asked Congress to “reprogram” $1.3 billion from Overseas Contingency Operations accounts, specifically Army and Defense-wide operations and maintenance accounts, to purchase eight F-35 aircraft for the Air Force and the Marines. In other words, at the beginning of September, the Pentagon figured it had more than $1 billion extra in those two accounts and could afford to move the money to buy F-35s – a plane that is not yet operational and certainly isn’t taking part in any overseas contingencies.
At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we were appalled by that ludicrous attempt at budgetary sleight of hand and began writing and talking about it. I was gratified when the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee wrote a strong rebuke to the Pentagon and shut down that request. And yet, two months later, the Pentagon is back to say it needs more money in those exact two accounts it would have happily raided earlier. In fact, it says it need an additional $464 million in Defense-wide operations and maintenance and an additional $779.6 million in those accounts for the Army.
Now, I don’t have access to any of the fancy calculators they have at the Pentagon, but the one on my smart phone tells me if you add those two numbers together you come up with $1.243 billion, which is pretty close to the $1.3 billion the Pentagon said it didn’t need and could transfer to the F-35.
It sounds like a good rustle through the sofa cushions at the Pentagon might come up with the entire $5 billion the administration says it needs, but Congress almost certainly will approve this request. But I hope the relevant committees will take a hard look at some of the details. Even in the unclassified version, there are clues to issues that warrant a second look.
Here are a few things upon which the Congress should turn a budgetary magnifying glass:
- $1.6 billion to establish yet another program, “The Iraq Train and Equip Fund.” This amount would be devoted to military and security forces from Iraq, including Kurdish and tribal security forces. Among the litany of things to be purchased, besides the kind of equipment and training the name implies are the renovation and construction of facilities and stipends for trainees.
- $130.2 million to replace Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force missiles and bombs already used in the ongoing Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State group. Considering the size of the existing Overseas Contingency Operations account, it seems odd these missiles weren’t purchased with those funds in the first place. Or were they? Congress should ask.
- $544.5 million in Air Force procurement for “classified purposes.” It is one of the most important roles of the Congressional defense committees to peel back the veil of secrecy and ensure these funds are being appropriately used.
- $14.7 million in Air Force research and development funds, also for classified purposes.
- $129.1 million in Defense-wide research and development, again, for classified purposes.
At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we found these items, which I believe bear a second look by the Congress, in a quick perusal of the budget request from the Office of Management and Budget. If I were betting, I’d say there are probably many classified details that bear scrutiny. Time for Congress, during the upcoming lame-duck session, to get out the magnifying glass.