An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 prepares to land aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom, on June 7, 2011.

An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 prepares to land aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom, on June 7, 2011. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Aaron Burden/Released

Lawmakers Should Listen to the Budget Hawks, Not the Defense Hawks

There are plenty of ways the Pentagon could spend its money more efficiently.

As the House and Senate unveil their fiscal 2016 budgets this week, there is “a war within the Republican Party,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently put it, over just how much money Congress will dole out to the Pentagon.

However, nobody has said why or how the currently prescribed funding levels are inadequate to deal with the threats facing the United States today and beyond, nor do they explain how throwing more money at the Pentagon will make America safer.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, have argued for increasing the Pentagon’s budget exponentially while others like Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., think that budget caps “are one of the best things that’s happened to the finances of the country.”

If defense hawks like McCain get their way, the Pentagon budget will balloon to as much as $613 billion using a combination of funds from the Pentagon’s base and war funding accounts. That is $90 billion more than the ceiling established by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which would ostensibly be labeled as war funding, but in reality would go to fund programs normally found in the Pentagon’s base.

There are plenty of ways the Pentagon could spend its money more efficiently. As McCain well knows, one of the most serious financial problems facing the nation is how so many taxpayer dollars are wasted on military programs that aren’t needed and on abuses in Pentagon spending. McCain has been a longtime critic of the infamous problems with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the poster child of Pentagon’s wasteful excess. The military has and will spend more on this aircraft than France and the United Kingdom together spend on defense in one year. What’s more, the F-35 hasn’t come close to proving its value and isn’t necessary to meet today’s security challenges. 

Another mainstay in the Pentagon’s waste saga is the Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS. While the good news is that the Defense Department has reduced the number it plans to purchase, the bad news is the LCS costs over $300 million more per ship than was originally proposed. These ships have caught on fire and been plagued with other operational issues. And there are two versions of the faulty ship made by two different companies, which has dramatically increased the cost of building and maintaining the ships. 

(RelatedGOP Budget Hawks Want To Use War Funds To Skirt Defense Caps)

Cost overruns in weapons programs draining Pentagon coffers have been well documented. According to a recent Government Accountability Office assessment, more than half of the Pentagon’s top weapons programs increased in cost last year alone by $27 billion. To put that number in perspective, that’s about what the entire Department of Energy spends in one year and about half of the Department of Homeland Security’s annual budget.

Compounding the problem further is the fact that the Pentagon has no idea whether it is spending its money efficiently. That’s because the Defense Department is the only federal agency that has not completed an audit, a shortcoming that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., recently called “simply unacceptable.” He is one of several bipartisan members of Congress behind various sensible bills to audit the Pentagon. The House bill’s cosponsor, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said, “If you were an individual stockholder in a company, you’d expect a yearly report, you’d expect a profit-loss statement, you’d expect a pro forma future projection of earnings, but we don’t seem able to get the most basic data out of the Pentagon.”

Instead of giving the Defense Department many more billions of dollars without sufficient accountability or adequate oversight, Congress should insist that the Pentagon institute the controls necessary to stop wasting taxpayer dollars.

Fortunately, it appears that the appropriators see things differently from the authorizers. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., isn’t willing to exceed the defense spending caps set by the Budget Control Act. If Graham’s prognosis is correct, Price isn’t alone in the GOP.  And Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said last week that DOD must “corral wasteful spending” before Congress considers appropriating more than allowed by the caps.

Lawmakers should follow the lead of Price and Sanders: let’s figure out how the Pentagon spends its money and sets priorities before we blow the budget caps and give it more to waste.