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Senate Poised to Fund Programs the Military Doesn’t Want

Two nights ago, President Obama met with senior military leaders at the White House to discuss defense spending and ways to address budgetary challenges. In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which requires the Pentagon to cull roughly $1 trillion from previously planned spending levels, partly through automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. For the past two years, Congress has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the lower spending levels now mandated by law.

When President Obama met with military leaders, they discussed the upcoming budget request, which is expected to be the first that complies with the Budget Control Act’s post-sequester funding levels. Among the recommendations that the Pentagon is considering are cutting in half the number of Littoral Combat Ships (a program the Project On Government Oversight has long criticized as being wasteful) and eliminating the A-10 ‘Warthog’ aircraft, a decision which may be unwise given developmental and capability problems plaguing the A-10’s supposed successor, the F-35 Lightning II.

While this may be the first Pentagon budget request that accepts sequestration, this is not the first time the Pentagon has proposed cost-saving measures to Congress in order to comply with the Budget Control Act’s spending constraints. In its Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, the Pentagon proposed terminating a few, relatively minor programs for modest savings.

The Pentagon proposed mothballing a fleet of transport planes, the C-27J, which are more expensive to operate than the C-130. The Pentagon also proposed terminating one of its high altitude drones, the Global Hawk Block 30, because the Air Force can fly the U-2 Dragon Lady at less cost. Finally, the Navy proposed retiring seven aging cruisers early rather than paying for expensive but necessary upgrades. Accepting these modest proposals should have been a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, Congress rebuffed even these modest attempts at savings. Instead, Congress insisted that the Air Force continue to purchase C-27Js (even though the service was planning on sending them to the boneyard), demanded that the Air Force continue to fly the Global Hawk drones through 2014, and gave the Navy billions of dollars to upgrade the aging cruisers. Congress has also repeatedly provided more funding than the Army wants for the M1 Abrams tank program.

Later this week, the Senate is expected to take up its Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This bill provides the Senate with an opportunity to enact some of the cost-saving measures that the Pentagon has proposed so far.

In fact, just last week, Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) requested that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, provide the Senate Armed Services Committee with a list of wasteful or unnecessary programs that Congress continues to fund. Although Senator Chambliss is still waiting for that list, we’ve put together a starter list for when the Senate begins consideration of the NDAA, which is expected tomorrow.

Here are just some of the things military leaders have said they don’t want so far, but members of Senate Armed Services Committee decided to include in the Fiscal Year 2014 NDAA anyway:

  • C-130 Modernization: The Pentagon’s budget request included just over $58 million for C-130 cargo aircraft modernization. The Senate NDAA would add an additional $47.3 million.
  • EP-3 Modernization and Sensor Upgrades: The Pentagon requested more than $55.million for EP-3 spy plane modernization. The Senate NDAA would add an additional $5 million in sustainment funds as well as $5 million for sensor modifications.
  • DDG-51 Procurement: Because of sequestration, the Navy was unable to procure an extra DDG-51 destroyer under a multi-year procurement contract in Fiscal Year 2013. This year, the Pentagon has requested more than $625 million for DDG-51 procurement. The Senate NDAA would add an additional $100 million to purchase one more DDG-51.
  • RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30: In 2012, the Pentagon proposed mothballing the Global Hawk Block 30 drone in favor of the less expensive U-2 Dragon Lady. Last year’s NDAA blocked this proposed retirement and requires the Air Force to maintain the Block 30 fleet until December 31, 2014. The Administration estimates that cancelling this program would save $324 million.
  • Defense Rapid Innovation Program: This year, the Pentagon has not requested any funding for the Defense Rapid Innovation Program, yet the Senate NDAA would authorize $150 million.
  • Cruiser Modernization: Two years ago, the Pentagon proposed early retirement for seven aging cruisers and two dock landing ships. Congress rejected this proposal and instead appropriated $2.4 billion to modernize these vessels. The Navy has again proposed retiring these nine ships in Fiscal Year 2015, which the Senate NDAA would again block. The Administration estimates that retiring these vessels would save $562 million.
  • Human Terrain: The Fiscal Year 2014 budget request proposed zeroing out funding for a group of programs commonly referred to as “Human Terrain,” which seeks to better understand the local cultures in which warfighters are operating. The program has received scathing coverage in the press. Instead of zeroing out funds as the Pentagon has requested, the Senate NDAA would provide $15 million for three Human Terrain programs.
  • Israel: In Fiscal Year 2014, the Administration is requesting more than $95 million to develop and procure missile defense technologies for Israel. The Senate NDAA would authorize an additional $150 million for these efforts.

Just this list of funding that the Pentagon has not requested totals more than $1.3 billion, an excellent starting place for the Senate to begin making smart, sensible reductions to national security spending. If Senators are looking for more ideas, there are plenty of additional sources for cost-savings.

This week, the Congressional Budget Office released its biannual “White Book,” which catalogues many excellent ways for the federal government, including the Department of Defense, to save money over the long-term. Last year, POGO jointly released a list of recommendations with Taxpayers for Common Sense that could, if implemented, save close to $700 billion over the next decade. Other organizations from right to left have made additional suggestions. There is plenty of waste and ineffective spending from which to choose.

Two years after passage of the Budget Control Act and a hard commitment by Congress to reduce Pentagon spending by roughly $1 trillion, it is past time for our elected officials to begin making tough but necessary decisions about the future of America’s national security posture.