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NDAA Update: Defense Budget Bill Scorecard

In spite of the fact that the Senate did very little to rein in the runaway spending by the Pentagon, they did advance several reforms the Project On Government Oversight supports on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA). Some measures in the NDAA tackle waste, enhance government accountability, and increase contractor oversight.

It is now widely acknowledged that cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget are coming, whether from the automatic cuts in the sequester or in some kind of “grand bargain.” In fact, the Senate proceeded with the NDAA as if the so-called fiscal cliff was happening in an alternate universe by authorizing a whopping $631 billion. Although it is about $230 million less than the President’s budget, and about $3 billion less than the House version, much more needs to be done.

Now a conference committee will resolve differences between the House (H.R. 4310) and Senate (S.3254) versions of the bill. Here are some of the Senate-passed reforms that the Project On Government Oversight urges Congress to include in the final NDAA sent to the President’s desk:

Whistleblower Protections

  • The Senate agreed by unanimous consent to Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) amendment to enhance whistleblower protections for federal contractors and grantees. These protections will extend the excellent whistleblower protections for stimulus fund recipients to all federal contractors, subcontractors, and grant recipients who make disclosures about government waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality. This will go a long way to increase accountability to taxpayers. The amendment was cosponsored by Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).

Government Contracting Accountability

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) amendment will help stop contractors from using taxpayer dollars to fund human trafficking by closing loopholes in existing regulation, increasing enforcement capabilities, and mandating responsible labor recruitment practices. The amendment has 14 additional cosponsors. The House passed a similar amendment, offered by Reps. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Gerry Connelly (D-Va.).
  • A provision offered by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) during the committee vote on the Senate bill reduces contractor employee compensation caps from over $763,000 to $230,700 (but allows exceptions for scientists, engineers, and other specialists). This commonsense provision would end the ability of contractors to bill taxpayers more than three times the President’s salary for the compensation of their employees. (See Sen. Manchin’s press release for more details).
  • Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) amendment requires a report from the DoD Inspector General on contractor compensation costs. This important provision will provide real data on the total number of contractor employees whose salaries exceed $230,700 (which will be the new amount allowable once the Senate provision becomes law) and an assessment of whether federal civilian personnel could perform comparable services. This will be especially helpful in looking at some of the high-salaried positions exempted from the proposed lower compensation cap. The amendment was cosponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) amendment requires a report by the suspension and debarment officials of the military departments and the Defense Logistics Agency on delays in the federal suspension and debarment process. This provision will help tackle the long-standing problems with this broken enforcement tool for holding fraudulent contractors responsible and safeguarding taxpayer dollars. The amendment was cosponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).             
  • The Senate also agreed to two important provisions by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Cosponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the first requires the Pentagon to publish annual reports on federal contracting fraud. According to Sen. Sanders’ press release, this amendment calls for DoD to identify firms that received contracts after they were previously sanctioned for defrauding the Pentagon. Another amendment, cosponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) seeks to shine a light on the Pentagon revolving door—it requires that a database of certain senior DoD officials seeking employment with defense contractors be made publicly available.
  • Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) amendment requires the Pentagon to disclose and justify to Congress any contracts that contain indemnification clauses that hold military contractors harmless of acts of negligence. This reform would ensure that when a contractor (such as KBR) is found guilty of endangering the safety of military personnel, they won’t be able to simply point to their contract and say the government is responsible for indemnifying their legal costs and damages.

Wasteful Spending in the Pentagon Budget

  • POGO supports the provisions in both the House and Senate bills aimed at greater accountability for the expensive, problem-ridden littoral combat ship (LCS). Both versions require studies on matters related to the ships’ performance and cost. These are commonsense measures that should be included in the final version of the NDAA. The amendment Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) offered in the House requires the Government Accountability Office to investigate cracks, equipment failures, engine breakdowns, weld quality, and other matters related to the ships’ performance and cost.

Nuclear Weapons Programs Oversight

  • Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) amendment responds to the recent slew of safety and security problems at the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories. The provision urges Congress to maintain or increase “strong, independent oversight” of the nuclear labs. The Senate also passed a provision to study oversight and security at the labs. By contrast, the House bill called for sweeping rollbacks of oversight at nuclear weapons labs—an approach POGO opposes. These rollbacks eliminate Department of Energy (DOE) oversight of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons complex, essentially allowing NNSA to oversee its own compliance with the law, and dangerously weakening oversight by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. It is imperative for public health, safety, and security that the House-passed rollbacks are not included in the final version of the NDAA.

Audit the Pentagon

By: Suzanne Dershowitz
Public Policy Fellow, POGO

suzanne dershowitz At the time of publication Suzie Dershowitz was a public policy fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

By: Angela Canterbury
Director of Public Policy, POGO

angela canterbury Angela Canterbury is Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Budget, Defense, NDAA, Sequester

Authors: Angela Canterbury, Suzanne Dershowitz

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