By: Ethan Rosenkranz
Last week, the House approved its largest annual individual spending bill, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (H.R. 4870), which would provide $491 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget plus an additional $79.4 billion in war funding. While the House adopted some common-sense reform amendments, the bill adds more than billions of dollars in funding for unnecessary procurement programs.
Smart Reform-Minded Amendments Adopted
Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund (AIF): Representative Rick Nolan (D-MN) offered an amendment that was adopted by voice vote to prevent additional funding of the AIF—an account rife with waste, fraud, and abuse. The Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has two hundred investigators trying to account for the one hundred billion dollars the United States has spent in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they cannot figure out where most of the money has gone. As the United States continues to draw down its personnel, the ability of officials, like SIGAR, to physically examine, account for, and audit U.S. expenditures in Afghanistan will dwindle. Representative Nolan’s amendment would put a stop to this unaccountable gush of spending in Afghanistan.
Excess Domestic Infrastructure: According to Pentagon estimates, the military has more than twenty percent excess infrastructure across the United States—facilities and bases that are sitting unused or unoccupied at a cost of at least $2 billion per year. For the third year in a row, the Pentagon has requested that Congress authorize a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round to allow the Pentagon to begin downsizing domestically, yet Congress continually prohibits the authorization of new BRAC rounds. Representative Patrick Murphy (D-FL) successfully offered an amendment that would prevent the Pentagon from spending funds on facilities that are not being utilized and are sitting unused.
A-10 Thunderbolt: For years, the Air Force has tried to prematurely retire the A-10 Thunderbolt, referred to fondly as the “Warthog,” in order to make way for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. However, the A-10 is uniquely suited to perform the close air support mission—providing ground fire for troops in harm’s way—and is a shining example of what the acquisition process should produce more of: cost-effective, high-performance aircraft. The F-35, on the other hand, cannot fly as low and slow over ground troops as the A-10 can, has been plagued by schedule delays and developmental problems, and costs significantly more than the A-10 to procure and operate. Ignoring capability gaps between the A-10 and the F-35, the Air Force has pressed for the Warthog’s retirement. The Project On Government Oversight vigorously supported an amendment offered by Representatives Candice Miller (R-MI) and Ron Barber (D-AZ) to prevent the Air Force from prematurely mothballing the A-10. This amendment was approved overwhelmingly with the bipartisan support of three hundred lawmakers.
Pork Barrel Spending
Although the Pentagon continues to live under strict statutory spending caps that constrain the growth of defense spending, Congress cannot resist the temptation to add unnecessary funding to the Pentagon’s budget.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: The House defense appropriations bill would provide more than $5.8 billion for procurement of 38 F-35s—an increase of $479 million and 4 aircraft above what the Pentagon requested for this year. The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history and is expected to cost around $1.5 trillion to procure and maintain over its lifetime. During the same month that the House considered this spending increase for the F-35, flight operations were suspended for the Air Force’s variant because one of its F-35s caught fire during takeoff. This was the second grounding this month; earlier in June, the entire fleet was grounded due to oil leaks in the aircraft’s engine. Because the Pentagon decided to procure this aircraft while it is still being developed and tested, the United States will spend billions of dollars correcting problems identified in current F-35s.
Refueling of the George Washington Aircraft Carrier: Due to budget constraints and the need to set priorities, the Navy did not include funding for the refueling of the George Washington aircraft carrier in this year’s budget request. While nuclear powered aircraft carriers are built to last roughly fifty years, they require a costly nuclear refueling and complex overhaul process half way through their service life. POGO supports the Navy’s decision to forgo the refueling of the George Washington and allow the United States’ aircraft carrier fleet to shrink permanently to ten vessels. Indeed, when the House Armed Services Committee insisted on including funding for the George Washington in its annual defense authorization act, the White House threatened to veto the measure. Unfortunately, the House defense appropriations bill follows the lead of the Armed Services Committee in providing $789 million in unrequested funding for the refueling of the George Washington. Forgoing this refueling would save the United States up to $7 billion.
War “Slush” Fund: The Pentagon has not yet submitted a detailed war funding request for Fiscal Year 2015. As a result, the House decided to include a $79.4 billion “placeholder” in lieu of a formal war funding figure. Unfortunately, this placeholder figure is far above the $20-25 billion that the Pentagon will need to support the 9,800 troops that President Obama has indicated should remain in Afghanistan after 2014. And Congress has a bad track record of overfunding the uncapped war account in order to evade spending limits on the rest of the Pentagon’s budget.
It’s important that Congress resist the temptation to add extraneous funding to the war “slush fund” account, like the President’s recently proposed $5 billion counterterrorism fund, and ensure that this account is only used to fund war activities in Afghanistan. Once a formal war funding request is submitted, the House appropriations and armed services committees should hold oversight hearings and reauthorize the war budget at an appropriate level. Rubber-stamping the Administration’s placeholder request is an abrogation of congressional responsibility.