With sequester talks stalemated and the military sounding the alarm, it was surprising to see the Defense Appropriations bill passed yesterday add to those challenges rather than alleviate them by increasing the risks of the Pentagon being forced to fire civilian workers, blocking moves to address the festering wounds of Guantanamo Prison, investing in systems the military doesn’t want and undermining nuclear security. However, not all the news was bad as forward-looking members of Congress took steps to allow for reducing the bloat of senior officers in the military and saved billions of dollars of waste.
Boxing the military into a corner on key policy and budget issues undermines U.S. interests and security.
Blocking DoD civilian employee furloughs may lead to layoffs. CQ reports that “The House-passed bill now contains a provision (PDF) that would effectively bar civilian furloughs in fiscal 2014, and so the question now is what the impact of that could be. It would seem that if the Pentagon has to meet budget caps, and must take some of the cut out of personnel, and continues to exempt uniformed personnel from cuts, and can no longer furlough civilian employees, it may have to fire them instead — probably not what the authors of the amendment had in mind. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plainly told Defense workers this month that layoffs are in the offing anyway, absent budgetary relief (which does not seem to be likely).” [CQ, 7/25/13]
Preventing transfers of Guantanamo detainees undermines national security. The bill “Prohibits any funds made available by this Act from being used to transfer or release detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Yemen” overruling the U.S. military and intelligence community which has cleared 56 detainees to be transferred to Yemen. Just yesterday, a group of 26 retired generals and admirals warned that “Guantanamo imperils our nation’s ability to secure cooperation and intelligence from our allies abroad. Both the military and the intelligence community are only as effective as the information we collect from partners on the ground, who remain less likely to cooperate so long as the United States turns a blind eye to the rule of law.” [House Rules Committee, accessed 7/25/13. Generals and Admirals letter, 7/24/13]
Failure to implement New START nuclear reductions needlessly returns to Cold War gambits, expenses. The bill “Provides that none of the funds made available by this act may be used to carry out reductions to the nuclear forces of the United States to implement the New START Treaty.” Yet, as the Arms Control Association has explained, if “provisions to block funding to implement New START were to become law, Russia would likely halt its nuclear reductions as well, risking the treaty’s collapse. This would allow Moscow to rebuild its nuclear forces above the treaty ceiling of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States.” [House Rules Committee, accessed 7/25/13. Arms Control Association, 6/4/13]
Time to close the door on East Coast missile defense that doesn’t work and the military isn’t asking for. An amendment to cut “$70 million of unrequested funds for the East Coast Missile Defense site and dedicate that funding to deficit reduction instead” failed in a partisan vote. Yet, Vice Admiral J. D. Syring, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency, and Lt. General Richard Formica, Commander of Joint Functional Command for Integrated Missile Defense, say “there is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.” Furthermore, the system faces massive technical problems. The New York Time editorializes, “After 30 years of research and an estimated $250 billion investment, the Pentagon’s defense program against intercontinental ballistic missiles from adversaries like Iran and North Korea had another failed test this month…The military has tested the ground-based midcourse defense system 16 times; only eight were successful, the last in 2008” – all of which have taken place in tightly controlled, unrealistic environments. [House Rules Committee, accessed 7/25/13. J. D. Syring and Richard Formica, 6/6/13. NY Times, 7/24/13]
The good news: example for going forward for tackling wasteful spending.
Eliminating politically-motivated spending and saying no to budgeting gimmicks. The bill “Reduces funds made available in the Overseas Contingency Operations budget by $3,546,000,000,” all of which was above what the Pentagon asked for. Explaining the significance of the measure, Rep. Mick Mulvaney said “The War budget [Overseas Contingency Operations] has been used for years as a slush fund of sort to get around budget limits…this year, that slush fund [portion of OCO] was about $5 billion. We sought to simply get rid of the money in the war budget that was not war-related.” [Representative Mick Mulvaney, 7/24/13]
A first step towards reducing bloated military headquarters. The bill prohibits the “use of funds to have a net increase of additional flag or general officers above current levels.” Ben Freeman at Third Way explains the significance of this step forward, “America’s armed forces have far too many generals and admirals—a situation that wastes money and creates a drag on military effectiveness. Although the U.S. military is 30% smaller now than it was at the end of the Cold War, it has almost 20% more three and four-star officers. The layers of bureaucracy to support them have grown as well, slowing down decision-making and burdening the warfighter.” [House Rules Committee, accessed 7/25/13. Ben Freeman, 7/13]