By Rick Maze
Amid accusations that the Defense Department still has bloated budgets — and protects them by hyping the potential harm of even modest cuts — the Pentagon’s top financial officer said big cuts are in fact being made and more are coming.
DoD Comptroller Robert Hale noted that more than 20 weapons systems have been “restructured or eliminated,” and the U.S. Joint Forces Command, the 2nd Fleet and two Air Operations Centers were consolidated.
Testifying Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Hale said more could have been done, but Congress often stands in the way — preventing some units from being closed and some weapons from being retired, as well as restricting efforts to pass on more health care costs to beneficiaries and slow the growth of military pay.
“DoD can propose but Congress must dispose,” Hale said.
His testimony came before a committee that focuses on efficiency and cost-cutting but lacks direct authority over the defense budget. However, its members share a bipartisan opinion that military spending can be reduced.
“Now that we have ended the war in Iraq, are winding down the war in Afghanistan and are facing record deficits, it would be logical to seek additional revenues and reduce defense spending, particularly on wasteful defense contracts,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s ranking Democrat, who said the military “continues to squander billions of dollars.”
An example, he said, is the biggest weapons acquisition program in U.S. history, the Joint Strike Fighter. The Pentagon “rushed to buy this aircraft without adequate testing and it disregarded recommendations to slow down the acquisition process,” Cummings said. “As a result, the program now faces skyrocketing costs, expensive retrofits and unacceptably poor performance.”
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., accused the Pentagon of making “over the top” claims about the harm that would result from the $47 billion in across-the-board budget cuts resulting from sequestration this year.
Hale said DoD is trying to find ways to be more efficient, but “efficiencies will unfortunately not be enough to meet the sudden and arbitrary fiscal 2013 budget cuts imposed by sequestration.”
Legislation pending before Congress will help by providing more money for an operations and maintenance budget that is 40 percent short, but this covers only one-third of the shortages, Hale said, warning furloughs of defense civilian employees are unavoidable under current budget proposals.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the Pentagon’s warnings are difficult to take seriously when wasteful spending continues. A DoD Inspector General report about spare parts purchasing problems found that the Army had paid $1,678.61 for a Chinook helicopter roller assembly that was priced at $7.71.
“I would like to see us fix something rather than just complaining about it,” Speier said, suggesting both spare parts and padded overhead costs appear to be to blame.