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The Black Budget Bonanza

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments' Steven Kosiak has estimated (pdf) the "black" or classified defense budget has ballooned to $30.1 billion, or 19%, of the total fiscal year 2007 Department of Defense budget request (via TPMMuckraker).  This total is split roughly evenly between research and development (R&D) funding and acquisition programs.  The amount spent on classified acquisition has nearly doubled since the mid-1990s--a rate much faster than unclassified acquisition programs.

As Kosiak notes, the record of black programs has been mixed.  Though programs like the F-117 stealth fighter have been considered highly successful, the failed A-12 Navy stealth bomber was a massive loss for the taxpayer because of the lack of oversight:

"Restrictions placed on access to classified funding have meant that DoD and Congress typically exercise less oversight over classified programs than unclassified ones. This lower level of scrutiny, coupled with the compartmentalization of information generally associated with classified efforts has contributed to performance problems and cost growth in a number of programs, such as the Navy�s ill-fated A-12 attack aircraft program."

Earmarks made by Congress may be partially responsible for the tremendous growth in the black defense and intelligence budget.  The USA Today has written about how former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) wielded earmarks in the classified defense budget to benefit Mitchell Wade's MZM.  You've got to wonder what other questionable earmarks are in the black Pentagon budget that are or aren't directly connected to the growing Cunningham-Brent Wilkes-Wade scandal.  With questions starting to swirl around Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who until last year was the chairman of the Defense appropriations subcommittee in the House and is now the chairman of the full Appropriations committee, we probably haven't seen the end of this.

Regarding the secret intelligence budget, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Inspector General Britt Snider wrote in 2003 (pdf):

"In addition, until recent years, both committees followed an unwritten rule that Members would not be allowed to insert �pork� into the intelligence authorization bill because they recognized the potential for abuse if Members were allowed to authorize funding for pork barrel projects in their home states as part of a list of classified projects that escaped public scrutiny.  If appropriations were to be authorized by the committees for what could be considered a pork barrel project, the authorization would be made (in general, unclassified terms) as part of the public bill. According to reports I have received from both congressional and executive branch sources, however, this longstanding policy has eroded significantly in recent years.  If, indeed, this is so, it is unfortunate and cause for concern.  The committees ought not to allow their Members to hide pork barrel projects behind the veil of security classification.  If such projects are considered worthy of funding, the committees ought to do it in the open."

With the norm against pork on the intelligence authorization bill gone, did Cunningham or anyone else use their position on the House Intelligence Committee to benefit MZM or any one of the Brent Wilkes-connected companies?  Several different investigations, including one by the House Intel Committee itself, are examining whether or not this is the case. 

By: Nick Schwellenbach
Director of Investigations, POGO

Nick Schwellenbach Nick Schwellenbach's areas of expertise include: Government Oversight, Wasteful Contractor Spending, Open Government, Financial Sector, Whistleblower Issues.

Authors: Nick Schwellenbach

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