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Congress’s Pentagon Pork Plan

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Congress is voting now on a national defense budget that forces the Pentagon and related national security agencies to pay for weapons, personnel, and programs they don’t want or need.

Apparently oblivious to its own legislation, which requires reductions to Pentagon spending on January 2, Congress’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report authorizes $1.7 billion more than what the Pentagon and related national security agencies had requested.

Even Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who has repeatedly used hyperbolic rhetoric to defend the Pentagon budget, spoke out against profligate spending in the bill. Panetta told reporters at the National Press Club just prior to release of the budget that it would, "needlessly divert $74 billion over the next decade into programs, equipment and activities we don’t want or need."

Here are just a couple examples of how the bill does precisely that:

  • The NDAA requires the Pentagon to spend an additional $129 million on Abrams tanks, even though the Army didn’t request this funding and says it already has enough tanks. In fact, the Army has more than 2,000 Abrams tanks collecting dust in a California desert.
  • The NDAA also provides a back door for funding a nuclear weapons facility that the President, conservative groups, and even congressional appropriators have opposed. POGO has also repeatedly advocated against funding the unnecessary Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility, that House Appropriators once said “has no coherent mission to justify it.” As POGO and others have warned, this boondoggle could ultimately cost nearly $6 billion over the life of the program.

But, Congress isn’t just forcing the Pentagon and other national security agencies to spend more money; it’s also forbidding them from saving taxpayer dollars in a number of areas. For example:

  • Congress chose to forego two rounds of base closures that the Pentagon had requested. This ensures that American taxpayers will continue to subsidize the defense of countries around the world, as overseas bases are extremely expensive. Basing expert David Vine estimates that the cost to taxpayers of the U.S.’s more than 1,000 overseas military bases is $170 billion per year. Vine writes that, “The total economic costs to the U.S. economy are higher still. Consider where the taxpayer-funded salaries of the troops at those bases go when they eat or drink at a local restaurant or bar, shop for clothing, rent a local home, or pay local sales taxes in Germany, Italy, or Japan. These are what economists call ‘spillover’ or ‘multiplier effects.’”
  • Additionally, Congress is forcing the Air Force to keep 77 aircraft it wanted to retire. This includes the Global Hawk, which cost $211 million each and, according to Air Force officials, lacks the technical capabilities of the Cold War era U-2 spy plane. After Congress’s decision, taxpayers will now have to pay the $2.5 billion the Air Force estimated it could have saved by retiring 18 of these drones. Not to mention the additional savings lost by not retiring the other 59 aircraft.

This political self-interest of Congress impedes military effectiveness, economic security, and will ultimately cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Military leaders and even Pentagon contractors realize that it’s time to cut Pentagon spending. It’s time for Congress to deliver a pork-free Pentagon budget that defends our nation and our pocketbook.

By: Ben Freeman, Ph. D.
Investigator, POGO

ben freeman At the time of publication, Ben Freeman was an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Ben's work focused on national security and the influence of foreign lobbying on the U.S.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Budget, NDAA, Waste

Authors: Ben Freeman, Ph. D.

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