By Andrew F. Quinlan
Pentagon officials have consistently claimed dire consequences should the taxpayer gravy train stop flowing.
Faced with modest reductions in the growth of future spending due to sequestration, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, for instance, recently warned of “risk associated with behaving in such a cavalier fashion with respect to spending for national defense.”
Nonetheless, the cavalier fashion in which politicians and some defense contractors spend taxpayer dollars appears to continue unabated, judging by the brazen and ongoing waste being thrown at the defunct Medium Extended Air Defense Program.
Intended to replace the Patriot missile, MEADS has never met expectations. The project is years behind schedule — it was originally planned for deployment in 2008 — and billions over budget.
As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s now also unwanted by the military. The Congressional Budget Office also recommended cancellation of the program, while the Government Accountability Office found it “at risk of not meeting several technical performance measures.”
None of this is new information to those involved. Even the Department of Defense announced more than two years ago that the program “has been unable to meet schedule and cost targets.”
Thanks to the delays, the Patriot program would also have to be upgraded to fill the void instead of being replaced as originally planned, forcing the Pentagon to note that the costs of both continuing to pursue MEADS while simultaneously upgrading Patriot “are unaffordable in the current DOD budget environment.”
So instead of modernizing a proven system that our military will actually use, DOD continues to pour money into a missile program that is DOA.
Astonishingly, taxpayers are still spending money on MEADS despite these acknowledgements, with another $380 million slated to be spent on the program this year. The reasons are entirely parochial, as the entire process is putting the interests of politicians, contractors and foreign governments over those of the American people.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for instance, bragged that he was able to prevent a Senate vote on an effort by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to stand up for taxpayers and end what she called the “missile to nowhere.” It’s no doubt a coincidence that Lockheed Martin just happens to be building at least some of the missiles components in New York.
Contrast this view with that of Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., who said of MEADS, “We feel strongly that it’s a waste of money.” Unfortunately a few well-positioned senators ignored the military and other outspoken MEADS critics to firmly put the time honored congressional tradition of bringing home the bacon ahead of the interests of taxpayers.
MEADS was undertaken as a joint program with Italy and Germany, a fact which is now being further used to justify throwing more money at the failed effort. Rather than just cut our losses, decision makers ultimately opted to fund one last hurrah as a “proof of concept” in part to help Germany and Italy attract new partners for the program.
To date, the U.S. has contributed a majority of the missile program’s funding. Now that it’s clear MEADS won’t be fulfilling its original expectations, U.S. taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for yet more to help hold an international garage sale in which they won’t see any of the proceeds, or to assist in the vote buying schemes of elected officials.
Those costs should be paid by those who stand to benefit, which are the remaining countries hoping to continue the program, along with the company that is selling it. This includes a planned fall test of the MEADS system that is nothing more than a marketing event for the prime MEADS contractor and our “partner” countries who are now scrambling to find a buyer.
Every day brings new stories predicting doom should government face any of the belt tightening ordinary Americans are forced to do all the time. Yet ongoing spending for a dead missile program that the military doesn’t want proves that Washington has yet to make the kind of systemic changes demanded by the American people. It is clearly business as usual.
Andrew F. Quinlan is co-founder and president of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.