The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) announced today that it supports several amendments to the defense appropriations bill aimed at cutting wasteful spending and improving contractor performance, as well as ensuring that the public has access to information that is in its interest and that can be used to hold the Pentagon accountable. Debate and votes on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act FY 2012, H.R. 1540, began this afternoon in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Two amendments proposed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would narrow exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the spending bill that grant the Department of Defense (DoD) broad authority to withhold information from the public. The bill would give the DoD too much discretion in deciding what should and shouldn’t be released.
“These new exemptions proposed by the Pentagon would allow the government to withhold huge swaths of information that the public has a right to know,” said Angela Canterbury, POGO’s director of public policy. “In some instances withholding information could endanger the public.”
For example, the way the bill is written, the DoD could keep information about ground water contamination around a military base secret by claiming the information was important to national security.
One of Maloney’s amendments would clarify the DoD’s ability to withhold information specifically related to information defined as “defense critical security infrastructure information” by creating a “balancing test” where the public’s right to know would be weighed against the public interest in withholding. Another of her amendments would ensure that certain information regarding the performance of military aircraft is made available to the public, while safeguarding truly sensitive data. The public has a vital interest in understanding how well the aircraft their taxpayer dollars buy are performing and if our uniformed military are safe using the equipment.
POGO also supports an amendment offered by Rep. Maloney that would increase accountability in the $379 billion average annual defense contracting business by making a revolving door database publicly available. Current and former public servants should not be able to use their positions for private gain, and powerful defense contractors should not be able to rig the system. DoD currently collects ethics opinions on certain acquisition employees who go to work for contractors within two years of leaving DoD. This amendment would require this database to be publicly available online.
Other amendments POGO supports include:
- Amendment #22, proposed by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), repeals the establishment of the National Drug Intelligence Center, which duplicates work already being performed by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
- Amendment #153, proposed by Rep. Betty McCollum limits Pentagon expenditures on musical instruments to $200 million in FY 2012.
- Amendment #102, proposed by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), strips $100 million from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The head of the MDA told members of the House Armed Services Committee MDA cannot spend the extra $100 million the committee gave it in the defense spending bill.
- Amendment #125, proposed by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), expands existing whistleblower protections for Armed Services members.
Increasing Contractor Accountability
- Amendment #149, proposed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore), requires the Pentagon to notify congressional defense and budget committees when entering or modifying indemnification agreements with exceptions. POGO would like for there to be a ban on indemnifying contractors, since taxpayers shouldn’t be bailing out big contractors and since risky and hazardous work should not be performed by contractors in the first place. However, this amendment is at least a step towards more oversight.
Improving Contractor Effectiveness
- Amendments #131 and #164, proposed by Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) that would increase oversight of foreign police training programs (#131) and increases the Pentagon's reporting requirements to the House Oversight and Government Reform committee.
- Amendments #19 and #192, proposed by Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) to eliminate funding for the V-22. The GAO has cited inherent design flaws in the V-22 as limiting the Pentagon's ability to improve its operation in high-threat operations, and the program has become too costly to continue to fund.
- Amendment #42, proposed by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), to require the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to identify redundant programs. This provides important analytical support for furthering the Pentagon's efficiency efforts.
- Amendment #146, proposed by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) improves nuclear security by increasing funding for Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.