Policy Letter

Coalition Pushes Biden to Publicly Support Eliminating Pentagon Wish Lists

(Illustration: Renzo Velez / POGO)

President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We, the undersigned good governance, foreign policy, faith, and taxpayer groups write to request that you urge Congress to repeal the statutory requirements for unfunded priority lists (UPLs).

These extra-budgetary wish lists threaten national security by distorting Pentagon strategy. Requiring the Pentagon to request nice-to-have items outside of the formal budget process shields the department from making difficult, but sorely needed, budget tradeoffs integral to effective and responsible planning for the future of U.S. forces. The wish lists allow military services, combatant commands, and other military components to request funding for programs without producing the budget justification documents required for formal funding requests.1 As a result, there is little understanding of how wish lists impact the Pentagon’s long-term costs and force structure. They inhibit the department from making strategic budgetary decisions, which are increasingly critical to maintaining force readiness.2

Department of Defense leadership agrees that UPLs complicate their ability to prioritize. In March, Comptroller Mike McCord wrote that “The current statutory practice of having multiple individual senior leaders submit priorities for additional funding absent the benefit of weighing costs and benefits across the department is not an effective way to illuminate our top joint priorities.”3 Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a congressional hearing confirmed his support for eliminating Pentagon wish lists,4 and it’s time for the White House to publicly back him.

Secretary Austin is the first department head to push back on UPLs since then-Secretary Robert Gates scaled back wish list requests by about 90% in 2009.5 Then-Secretary Gates’ success was unfortunately short-lived, and this year wish list requests total at least $17 billion.6 Moreover, Congress failed to advance efforts to get rid of Pentagon wish lists in the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It’s clear that eliminating these wish lists requires a whole of government approach.

As a matter of national security and sound fiscal policy, we urge you to publicly state your strong support for eliminating Pentagon wish lists and to push Congress to take immediate action outside of the NDAA process.


Council for a Livable World
Demand Progress Action
Friends Committee on National Legislation
National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies
National Taxpayers Union
Peace Action
Project On Government Oversight
Public Citizen
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
R Street Institute
Taxpayers for Common Sense
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
United Church of Christ, Justice and Local Church Ministries
Win Without War