All About That Base (No Closure)
Meghan Trainor could have been singing about Congress in her runaway hit “All About That Bass” or base in this instance because Congress went out of its way to ensure the Pentagon cannot close a military facility of any kind. “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.” No explanation. No fancy language. No wiggle room. No base shakin’.
From the Pentagon’s reclama to the Congress, “The Department’s goal is a BRAC focused on efficiency and savings, and it is a goal that departmental leadership believes is eminently achievable. Without authorization for a new round of BRAC, DoD will not be able to properly align the military’s infrastructure with the needs of the evolving force structure…”
Sorry, Pentagon leadership, but the Congress handed down an unequivocal “no…”
But in case any military service thought it might possibly have some flexibility to manage its own real estate, the Congress also added a section entitled, “Elimination of Authority of Secretary of the Army to Abolish Arsenals.” After all, Congress wants to make sure no military facility, no matter how old or unnecessary, is ever deactivated.
Sorry, Secretary of the Army, but the Congress rejects the Administration’s argument that, “Losing the authority to close arsenals and focus efforts on the critical production capabilities undermines the Army’s careful stewardship of precious taxpayer dollars and potentially dilutes the Army’s ability to meet critical emerging warfighter demands.”
We can hear it now: Because you know Congress is all about that Base, that base, no closure…
Deterring What Exactly? Good Budgeting Practices?
An alarming proposal snuck into the final version of the Pentagon policy bill. It would establish a “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund” to take the costs of a new submarine out of the Navy’s budget altogether. Instead this new, mysterious, pot of money will be in the overall “Defense-wide” budget.
We’ve been writing and talking about this ridiculous budgetary shell game for months. And we admit it’s pretty impressive that the Pentagon has been able to construct a shell enormous enough to hide an entire ballistic missile submarine. Or maybe this is more like a sidewalk game of Three Card Monte. But instead of “Where’s the queen?” the question is “Who’s paying for the queen?” In this case the Secretary of Defense is authorized to transfer unobligated funds, up to $3.5 billion, as a little seed money to get this fund started.
Let’s keep this really simple: the Navy budget is where Navy programs should be funded. Just like Air Force programs should be paid for out of its budget. Calling submarines national assets because they are, “owned, operated or controlled by the Department of Defense” is hooey. We’re pretty sure that the Air Force’s silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are similarly owned, operated, and controlled. For that matter, so are Army tanks. Look for the other military services to ask for this definition to be expanded beyond a “vessel…that carries operational intercontinental ballistic missiles.” Why should the Navy be the only service to benefit from this creative accounting?
It wasn’t the Army or the Marine Corps who waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq; it was the United States. If you take this new funding mechanism to its illogical conclusion, no weapon system will be paid for by the military services.
We hope the Appropriations Committees put an end to this particular game of Three Card Monte.
The F-35 and Growling About Navy Aircraft
We’ve written extensively about the long term unaffordability of the F-35. In our analysis we noted that several currently procured aircraft: the F-15E, the F-16, the A-10, and the F-18 all remain effective against the aircraft flown by likely adversaries.
Electronic attack (jamming) is one of the many, many missions the Air Force touts the F-35 fulfilling in the future. And a variant of the F-18 airframe, the EA-18G “Growler” is the current, far less expensive, alternative to the F-35 for jamming.
But the Pentagon, hot to put all its eggs in the F-35 basket, requested very little money in the Growler budget line ($45 million.) And the Navy, staggering under the cost of buying F-35s for both the Navy and Marine Corps, was in no position to push back.
The Congress, for largely parochial reasons, is adding $450 million for Growlers, as well as directing the Navy to retain the option of procuring more. So, we should be happy to see the less expensive alternative being funded. But, unfortunately, the entire F-35 procurement request of $6.3 billion for 34 aircraft across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps is also fully funded.
The lower cost alternative only results in actual lowered costs if you don’t buy the painfully expensive F-35.
Natural Resources or National Security?
Way at the end of the compromise Pentagon policy bill, after the section on Overseas Contingency Operations but before the Department of Energy provisions related to national security, we found “Natural Resources Related General Provisions.”
Say what? Is this the bill setting policy for the Department of Defense or not? Is this a typo? A computer glitch?
No, these provisions were included in the Defense Authorization on purpose. Why? Because the bill they should be in has no chance of passage in this Congress. And there was enough political support for things like a suite of land exchanges, six new national parks, expedited grazing and oil and gas permits, and even a shooting range in Idaho to insert them in a piece of legislation virtually assured of passage.
At Taxpayers for Common Sense our favorite provision in this extraneous portion of the bill authorizes the minting of a coin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Because nothing will advance the national security of the United States more than that.
Perhaps Congress should consider passing just one bill a year. It could contain anything and everything – and as long as it has “national security” or “Department of Defense” or “Pentagon” on the cover page, the Congress might actually consider passing it.
Warm Silos, Cold Hearts
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new caucus in town: The Senate Missile Caucus. The caucus is peopled by Senators from those few states that contain ICBM silo bases: Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
Actually, it’s been around for a few years. Its reason for being: beat back any attempt to make changes to ICBM force structure. Because changes to that force structure could make the Air Force bases involved more vulnerable to any future round of base closure. (Not that we’re holding our breath the Congress will ever allow another base closure commission to get to work!)
So the caucus raced into action earlier this year when the Pentagon indicated it would begin environmental testing of the effects of eliminating those silos. Not so fast, Generals. The press release machine was cranked up and pressure was placed on the Air Force to abandon the effort.
But just to make sure a stake was driven through the heart of any such idea, the final version of the Department of Defense policy bill includes a provision entitled: Retention of missile silos.
Specifically, “…the Secretary of Defense shall preserve each intercontinental ballistic missile silo that contains a deployed missile as of the date of the enactment of this Act in, at minimum, a warm status…” And this warm status must be maintained at least as long as the New START Treaty is in effect – so until February 5, 2021.
And despite the Administration’s official reclama of objectionable provisions in the policy bill stating that, “it would impinge on the President’s authority to determine the appropriate force structure to meet nuclear deterrence requirements…” the naysayers won out. This provision remains in the bill the Congress is poised to pass.
Another common sense opportunity to reduce redundant force structure and, thereby, save some money has fallen to parochial interests.
You Can’t Do That…or That…or That!
The annual Pentagon policy bill has finally seen the light of day, just days before the Congress plans to go on its long holiday break. We could write an entire essay on the bizarre process that has led to a “compromise” bill when the full Senate never actually debated any version of this bill. But, given the limited amount of time left, let’s just get down to substance and close our eyes to the horrible process.
This legislation is massive, more than 1600 pages, and as we scanned the Table of Contents (itself 27 pages long) we quickly noticed the prevalence of a single word: “prohibition.” For a moment we thought the 18th amendment was making a comeback. We’re mighty relieved to find that isn’t the case. Instead, we found the Congress is using its power to keep the Administration from following through on the vast majority of cost saving measures the Pentagon sought in its budget request. In fact the word “prohibition” appears 97 times in the bill. And the Congress doesn’t stop there; the word “limitation” appears 298 times. Sorry Pentagon leaders, the Congress has no real interest in your thoughts on how to run the department. At least not if you’re trying to do anything that might end or curtail an outmoded or wasteful program, close a base, or stem the growth of benefits.
So, don’t try to retire the Predator, the U-2, the A-10, or curtail the modernization of the C-130. Don’t even think about another round of base closure. And, by the way, the Secretary of the Army no longer has the authority to abolish an Army arsenal. And don’t try to “inactivate” any aircraft carriers; they’re talking to you, Secretary of the Navy. The list of people “prohibited” from taking any action extends all the way up to the Secretary of Defense; among other things the Secretary may not take any action to shut down is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silo as long as the New START Treaty is in effect.
And the Congress will allow no changes to the commissary system, with the exception of the authority to procure brand name products to be sold in them. But, you’ll breathe easy (pun intended) to hear that the retail stores or “exchanges” can now offer “competitive pricing” on tobacco.
For the next few days we’ll be combing through the bill and highlighting instances of both wasteful and cost saving measures. Keep checking back here.