The latest defense authorization bill prevents the Pentagon from making money-saving reforms.
By Ryan Alexander
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015, which sets policy and priorities for the Pentagon, was signed by the president last week. While much of the policy in the bill is non-controversial and reflects long standing agreement between the administration and Congress, when my staff at Taxpayers for Common Sense was working our way through analyzing the huge, 1,600 page document, we noticed that Congress also goes out of its way to limit the ability of the Pentagon to follow through on the vast majority of cost-saving measures the administration sought in its budget request. In fact the word “prohibition” appears 97 times in the bill and the word “limitation” appears 298 times.
One might think Congress has no real interest in Pentagon leadership’s thoughts on how to run the department. At a minimum, Congress, despite all of its talk of fiscal constraint, seems dead set against efforts to curtail some outmoded or wasteful programs, close a base or stem the growth of benefits. Here are some details about just a few of the long list of prohibitions:
Base closure: The Pentagon’s official reclama, part of a lengthy document appealing specific items in the House and Senate drafts of the bill, stated, “The Department’s goal is a BRAC [base closure commission] focused on efficiency and savings, and it is a goal that departmental leadership believes is eminently achievable. Without authorization for a new round of BRAC, DoD will not be able to properly align the military’s infrastructure with the needs of the evolving force structure.” Congress didn’t care and went out of its way to ensure the Pentagon cannot close a military facility of any kind. The defense authorization states, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.” No explanation. No fancy language. No wiggle room. No base closure.
Retention of missile silos: The final version of the Department of Defense policy bill includes this specific prohibition: “the Secretary of Defense shall preserve each intercontinental ballistic missile silo that contains a deployed missile as of the date of the enactment of this Act in, at minimum, a warm status.” And this warm status must be maintained at least as long as the New START Treaty is in effect – so until Feb. 5, 2021. Despite the administration stating that, “it would impinge on the President’s authority to determine the appropriate force structure to meet nuclear deterrence requirements,” this provision remained.
Commisary system: The only changes Congress will allow to the commissary (grocery store) system are to allow for the authority to procure brand name products to be sold in them. No efforts to save costs on how commissaries are managed are allowed.
Outmoded weapons: Congress prohibits the retirement of the Predator, the U-2, the A-10 and any efforts to curtail the modernization of the C-130. And, by the way, the secretary of the Army no longer has the authority to abolish an Army arsenal. And don’t try to “inactivate” any aircraft carriers; they’re talking to you, secretary of the Navy.
The list of people “prohibited” from taking any action extends all the way up to the secretary of defense; among other things, the secretary may not take any action to shut down an intercontinental ballistic missile silo, as I noted above. Prohibitions and limitations were not the only ways the bill made it difficult to save money. An alarming proposal snuck into the final version of the Pentagon policy bill. It would establish a “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund” to take the costs of a new submarine out of the Navy’s budget altogether. Instead this new, mysterious, pot of money will be in the overall “Defense-wide” budget.
We at Taxpayers for Common Sense have been writing and talking about this ridiculous budgetary shell game for months. In this case, the secretary of defense is authorized to transfer unobligated funds, up to $3.5 billion, as a little seed money to get the fund started.
Let’s keep this really simple: The Navy budget is where Navy programs should be funded, just like Air Force programs should be paid for out the Air Force budget. Calling submarines national assets because they are, “owned, operated or controlled by the Department of Defense” is hooey. I’m pretty sure that the Air Force’s silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are similarly owned, operated and controlled. For that matter, so are Army tanks. If you take this new funding mechanism to its illogical conclusion, no weapon system will be paid for by the military services.
And of course, almost every year there are a set of policies that have no relationship to the Pentagon or national security. Way at the end of this year’s bill, after the section on Overseas Contingency Operations but before the Department of Energy provisions related to national security, you’ll find “Natural Resources Related General Provisions.”
The understandable immediate reaction to this section is that it must be a typo. But, no, these provisions were included in the Defense Authorization on purpose. Why? Because the bill they should be in had no chance of passage in this Congress. And there was enough political support for things like a suite of land exchanges, six new national parks, expedited grazing and oil and gas permits, and even a shooting range in Idaho to insert them in a piece of legislation virtually assured of passage.
Probably the most ludicrous provision in this extraneous portion of the bill authorizes the minting of a coin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Because nothing will advance the national security of the United States more than that.