By Brandon Arnold
House and Senate negotiators have reached a deal on the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and, as in past years, it represents a missed opportunity to scale back unnecessary expenditures and apply commonsense reforms to our military budget.
For instance, the bill blocks the Base Realignment and Closure process, rejects proposed commissary pare-backs, and allows for only minor cost-saving reforms to the TRICARE health program. In terms of outlays, with a total price tag of about $585 billion, there are plenty more examples of wasteful spending in this bloated bill – but four in particular stand out.
The bill includes $202.9 million for the long-range anti-ship missile (LRASM) program. Eight taxpayer organizations joined together last month to oppose continued funding for this program because of its high costs and operational uncertainty relative to other alternatives.
Funding for LRASM was sustained despite the Senate Armed Services Committee’s attempt to zero out the program because it was “concerned that this program was created to respond to an urgent combatant commander need, but was done so with insufficient analyses of other available alternatives, and with insufficient regard for the costs of locking in a long-term commitment under a non-competitive program.” By continuing to fund LRASM, Congress missed out on an opportunity to save taxpayers a quarter of a billion dollars in the near-term and, quite probably, a lot more money in the long-term.
The bill also adds $120 million in funding for a program to upgrade the M-1 Abrams tank, despite a current surplus of tanks that dates back to the Cold War. These additional resources were not requested by the Pentagon, which has practically begged Congress to stop funding the production of additional tanks.
Army Secretary John M. McHugh acknowledged this was essentially a government-run “make-work” scheme, not a program that addresses our military needs when he wrote to leaders in Congress in August: “Though I must reiterate that the Army has no need for additional M1A 2SEPv2 tanks, the production of these tanks does contribute to the mitigation of risk to our industrial base.”
Taxpayer dollars should be used to address our nation’s defense needs not to create jobs in the backyards of influential Members of Congress.
The Pentagon and the Air Force have stated they would like to retire the entire fleet of 283 A-10 aircraft to save $4.2 billion, as well as prevent any additional delays in the deployment and operation of the highly problematic F-35 jet.
After some hawkish members of Congress balked at this notion, military leaders reportedly offered a compromise solution that would instead ground 72 A-10s. Entirely rejecting the budget-conscious request of the Pentagon, the NDAA will instead block any A-10 retirements and add $350 million to the Air Force budget to fund the jet’s operations and maintenance. The White House has hinted that President Obama would consider vetoing any bill that continues the A-10 program.
Finally, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed “serious concerns” about the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) when he hit the pause button on the Navy’s $34 billion program. That decision followed a report by the Pentagon’s director of operational testing that said the LCS “is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat.” Nonetheless, the House version of the NDAA included $977 million to build two new ships and the Senate version proposed $1.4 billion to construct three.
As is too often the case, negotiators elected for the costlier Senate option. On the positive side, the NDAA includes a provision requiring additional reporting on the capabilities of the LCS before moving forward with new construction.
Despite containing these four wasteful provisions (and many more like them), the NDAA will likely breeze through Congress on its way to the president’s desk. House and Senate negotiators have given budget watchdogs very little time to scrutinize and evaluate the massive $585 billion bill, which means that taxpayers will once again be forced to pay for dubious and unnecessary military programs as our elected officials rush to wrap up work for the year.
Arnold is executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.
via Taxpayers shortchanged by bloated Defense bill | The Hill.