Last month I wrote about the ten most blatantly wasteful items of defense spending in last year’s spending bill. Now, the defense budget process for 2016 (FY 2017) has just started, with the Administration’s $582.7 defense budget. Congress has sounded off that it cares nothing about the President’s budget overall, and for defense that seems to mean Congress’s armed service chairs like Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) will add more spending, and much more waste.
Among the waste-themes are: pushing on with expensive purchases of flawed weapons; bidding wars between the Defense Department and Congress; and, the continued blind pursuit of the new trillion-dollar nuclear triad.
Here are ten red flags of waste:
1, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Defense spending is divided into a base amount, in the regular defense spending bill, and another account, OCO, intended for unpredictable wars and commitments abroad, in a supplemental spending bill in 2017. Last year, Congress threatened to put massive amounts of regular weapons purchases into the OCO, to get around spending ceilings (which do not apply to OCO).
Because of last year’s deal about budget ceilings between the President and the Congressional Republicans, it seemed like the OCO maneuver, for padding the defense spending bill, would stop. Wishful thinking. It won’t. The Administration has announced a proposed $59 billion OCO, most of which would actually devoted to overseas operations (although $8 billion is in regular weapons buys). The House majority intends to treat that figure as a floor, not a ceiling, and want to fatten up defense spending (especially on what their district’s firms make) via OCO by at least $15 billion.
2. Wasteful individual weapons. The prize, in terms of massive criticism, goes to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), meant for combat in shallow waters. A few months ago, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter wrote a blistering memo about how the Navy had to cut back its LCS purchases. Just recently, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said “practically no LCS mission capabilities [have been] proven. But, the Administration budget would still buy two, and, Congress will want more.
3. The next naval aircraft carrier, known as CVN 79. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote about it, “Poor Outcomes Are the Predictable Consequences of the Prevalent Acquisition Culture.” The carrier is estimated at $11.5 billion, but, says GAO, “CVN 79 is likely to cost more than estimated.” Its predecessor has been plagued with cost overruns and other problems.
4. More F-35s. GAO has written voluminously about the shortcomings of the F-35. But, this Lockheed plane is a favorite of the powerful delegation from Texas, where it is made. Per the budget, the Air Force reduced its buys by 5, but, the Navy and the Marine Corps will buy 13 more. Congress will want more.
5. The Global Hawk. Some years ago, there was an effort to cancel this. As Taxpayers for Common Sense entitled their analysis, “Pricey Drone is a Waste of Money.” It was unreliable in bad weather and needed an expensive retrofit to counter anti-aircraft. But, the budget includes both it, and the U-2, although both were not supposed to be needed.
6, 7, 8, 9. For some time, the Defense Department has been preparing to undertake a whole new nuclear Cold War. For the Cold War nuclear competition with the Soviet Union, the U.S. had a triad of nuclear armed submarines, bombers, and missiles. The department envisages a complete set of new weapons for all three legs of the triad (call them 6 for submarines, 7 for bombers, and 8 for missiles), plus the new nuclear warheads (9), costing about a trillion dollars. Time is running out to make some choices among these, so that the gigantic cost becomes something that the country and the defense budget can afford. But this budget includes $8 billion for submarines, with $40 billion planned, and fully funds the long-range bombers. The nation is headed for an over-the-top new Cold War triad.
(6) Further: As for the proposed $1.4 billion for new nuclear submarine, with $10 billion over 5 years, it will benefit Senator Reed’[s state (R.I.) and Senator Blumenthal’s state (Conn.) – both on Armed Services — because of General Dynamics facilities.
(9.) Further: In the realm of strategic nuclear weapons, the Defense Department budget does propose to bring to an end one gigantic white elephant, a plant to convert the old plutonium warheads to reactor fuel (MOX). But, a strong story in the New York Times showed that the delegation from South Carolina (the plant location) will probably keep funding it.
10. Guantanamo Bay. Secretary Carter says he still wants to close Gitmo, which would save half a billion dollars. Needless to say, Congress will not agree.