By AUSTIN WRIGHT, JEREMY HERB and JEN JUDSON
President Barack Obama is losing some of the control over the defense budget that his administration clawed away from top military commanders early in his presidency, with the service chiefs and Congress once again openly conspiring to undo tough spending decisions made by the White House and the Pentagon.
The result: an omnibus spending package for this fiscal year that includes money to buy lots of weapons the Pentagon didn’t request but top commanders signaled they wanted anyway.
It all amounts to a more than $3 billion boost in procurement funding above the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget request — and a bill packed with goodies for the military’s top defense contractors, including aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
It also could have contributed to the perception of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as a weak leader — and Obama’s decision last month to push him out of the job. And it comes amid tense relations between the White House and the Pentagon, where leaders have complained about the National Security Council’s increasing micromanagement of military affairs.
Some history: Military commanders have long provided Congress with lists of “unfunded requirements” — items they want that didn’t get included in the Pentagon’s annual budget submission, which is crafted through a long process in which all the services have their say but the final calls are made by the Office of Management and Budget.
Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back on “unfunded requirements” early in Obama’s tenure to prevent the service chiefs from bypassing his office as he sought to rein in a defense budget that had ballooned during the George W. Bush administration.
By 2012, unfunded requirements — sometimes called “wish lists” — had all but vanished, as Congressional Quarterly reported at the time.
This year, though, marked the return of the lists, which House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) requested in February letters to the services, combatant commanders and the National Guard Bureau.
And in April, Hagel forwarded to McKeon exactly what he’d asked for: wish lists from the services and top military commanders that provided a roadmap for lawmakers and industry lobbyists to subvert the White House’s spending plan for the Pentagon.
And subvert it they did.
Case in point: The omnibus spending deal, which House and Senate leaders hope to pass this week to stave off a government shutdown, includes $1.5 billion for 15 Boeing EA-18G Growlers that the Pentagon hadn’t requested — but were on the Navy’s unfunded requirements list.
The bill includes two extra Air Force F-35 fighter jets that were on the service’s list.
And it includes funding boosts for a number of Army vehicles that were on the requirements lists, including the Stryker armored fighting vehicle made by General Dynamics and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle made by BAE Systems.
It also adds money for Army National Guard training, the modernization of the Patriot missile defense system made by Raytheon and the Army’s Boeing-made AH-64 Apache helicopters — all items that were on unfunded requirements lists sent to McKeon.
Other items on unfunded requirements lists that got a boost: the Navy’s Joint High Speed Vessel, its P-8 Poseidon aircraft and the Air Force’s Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft.
“This shows that when the services can make a compelling case to Congress, they still do have the power to effectively go around the administration,” said defense budget expert Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “They’ve done that in several cases here.”
Added Gordon Adams, a defense budget official in the Clinton administration who now teaches at American University: “This says to me there’s a breakdown in budget discipline in the building.”
Hagel has done little to rein in the service chiefs, Adams said, with top military commanders campaigning publicly for Pentagon spending above the levels approved by the White House. “The services have had the illusion for the past few years that all this budget control stuff was temporary,” he said.
The unfunded requirements added to the defense spending bill are just some of the funding boosts given to weapons programs.
Pentagon procurement spending was increased to $93.8 billion in the 2015 spending bill, a boost of more than $3 billion from the Pentagon’s 2015 budget request and $1 billion more than last year’s enacted spending levels. The $93.8 billion funding level was higher than both the House-passed and Senate Appropriations Committee defense spending bills.
The fiscal 2015 spending measure also includes $63.7 billion for research, technology development and evaluation funding, which was $200 million more than last year.
Many major programs got a boost in the omnibus bill. It included an additional $479 million for four F-35 fighters in 2015 beyond what the Pentagon requested, adding two Navy F-35s in addition to the Air Force’s unfunded request. It contained $849 million to begin the refueling of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, a step the Navy said it might have to forgo and instead retire the carrier next year if sequestration was not reversed.
The investment firm Guggenheim Partners released an analysis of the defense bill for investors on Wednesday that contained positives for 11 defense contractors. There were no negatives.
The overall topline of the base Pentagon budget was effectively stagnant compared to 2014 — thanks to the 2013 budget agreement that rolled back some of the sequestration cuts — so there were reductions made in the bill.
Operations and maintenance accounts increased $1.8 billion above 2014 levels to $161.7 billion, but that still represented a cut of nearly $5 billion from the Pentagon’s 2015 budget request. The final O&M topline was also a $2.8 billion cut from the House-passed bill and a $4 billion cut from the Senate’s bill.
Another area facing cuts was personnel accounts, which saw its topline reduced $800 million below enacted 2014 spending levels.
Troops will once again be getting a 1 percent pay raise, rather than the 1.8 percent that was in the House-passed spending bill — saving $533 million, according to a Senate committee report.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/2015-budget-military-spending-obama-113499.html#ixzz3LcIRCKLT
via Omnibus shows Obama losing grip on Pentagon spending | POLITICO.