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Pentagon Tells Congress: Stop Giving Us What We Don’t Need

When even the Secretary of Defense asks for cuts to the Department of Defense, it’s time to make those cuts. In a response to a letter to Defense Secretary Hagel from Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and eleven other Representatives, Comptroller Robert Hale asked Congress for help as the DoD seeks “to hold down defense costs while also meeting national security needs.”

In the April 19 letter, the bipartisan group of Representatives told Secretary Hagel they support his pledge to “reshape the Department of Defense to better reflect 21st century threats and fiscal realities.” They reference a call from fifteen former senior national security officials dubbed the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security to assess ways Congress and the Administration can make smart cuts to the defense budget. Also citing overwhelming public opinion in favor of reducing Pentagon spending, the Members applauded Secretary Hagel’s leadership on the issue.

Hale’s response outlines cuts the DoD has already made—reductions in military modernization, force structure, personnel costs, and overhead expenditures—and what it’s doing now to address fiscal constraints. Specifically, he asks these Members of Congress to support DoD’s proposed cuts. Lower-priority weapons programs and lower-priority military force structure are two areas he mentions to illustrate his point:

In recent years, Congress has denied a number of our proposals, including the elimination of lower-priority weapons programs (i.e., Global Hawk Block 30) and elimination of lower-priority military force structure (including Navy ships and Air Force aircraft). Congress has also rejected some of our proposals to slow the growth in military compensation and benefit costs, including certain proposed increases in fees and co-pays for military retiree health care. Congress has also so far rejected our efforts to pursue consolidation of our infrastructure, which will lead to large long-term savings. We hope that, in view of the serious fiscal problems facing the Department of Defense and our nation, Congress will allow us to implement these and other important efficiencies.

In a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month, Secretary Hagel addressed specific programs the DoD has been trying—unsuccessfully—to cut, such as seven Aegis cruisers and two amphibious ships that should be retired at the end of FY 2014, and more than 70 National Guard and Reserve aircraft that are no longer needed to maintain national security. With such large price tags attached to each defense system, the question seems obvious—why does Congress keep funding programs the Pentagon doesn’t want?

Pork-barrel politics, of course, seems to be the answer—pet projects that benefit influential constituents in a Member’s district are at the heart of these seemingly nonsensical failures to cut unwanted programs.

POGO and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum have been working tirelessly to cut the fat in Pentagon spending, urging Congress to make the right choices for smarter military spending to make us safer. We are pleased to have the Pentagon reminding Congress of some of the low-hanging fruit for taxpayer savings.

Some of the programs the Pentagondoesn’twant that we think are particularly ripe for reaping savings include:

  • Army Apache helicopter (delay)
  • Army Light Utility Helicopter (reduce procurement)
  • Army Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio (reduce requirement)
  • Army Unmanned Aerial Systems (revised acquisition strategy)
  • C-130 Avionics Modernization (terminate)
  • C-17 Cargo Aircraft Investment Funds (reduce excess)
  • C-27 Joint Cargo Aircraft (terminate)
  • CMRR Facility (although the appropriators have gotten the message and zeroed out this boondoggle, the congressional authorizers keep trying to revive it)
  • Cruiser Modernization Program (terminate)
  • Global Hawk Block 30 (terminate)
  • Precision Tracking Space System (terminate)
  • W78/88 Life Extension Program (terminate)

These are just a few on the long list of programs and systems that could save taxpayer dollars (see our other recommendations here). Now, will Congress listen?