The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Defense Bill: Good, Bad, and Ugly

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


As taxpayers peruse the Department of Defense (DOD) section of the monolithic Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (H.R. 3547) that funds the federal government through fiscal year (FY) 2014, they will find mixed blessings.

The positive news is that the budget for the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A) was slashed by 58.5 percent, from $267,214,000 to $110,890,000.  Although the Army has fought hard to defend the intelligence platform, it has encountered numerous problems.  A memo released by the DOD Operational Test and Evaluation office on November 1, 2012 claimed DCGS-A was “not operationally effective, not operationally suitable and not operationally survivable against cyber threats.”  Most alarmingly, soldiers who have used DCGS-A while deployed have been highly critical of the system.  Perhaps the severe reduction in funding will open the door to private sector technology that can be used to replace DCGS-A at a reduced cost.  The DOD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation recommended in a January 2014 report that the Army compare DCGS-A to existing off-the-shelf technology, saying the Army “must plan for, resource, and execute an adequate comparative test of DCGS-A and other commercially available products.”

Thankfully, the bill did not include funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System, which has experienced substantial cost overruns and delays.  Citizens Against Government Waste has led the fight to eliminate MEADS, which proved to be quite challenging.  In June 2013, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) compared the program to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, stating “You think [MEADS] is dead and it keeps popping out of the bathtub again.”  In an era where members of Congress routinely cite national security as the justification for maintaining DOD projects (and local jobs), it is refreshing to see this troubled program dismantled.

Unfortunately, the defense bill included in H.R. 3547 contained a lot of bad news for taxpayers.  Congress continued its longstanding tradition of jamming through unwanted funding for the M1 Abrams tank program, this time supplying a $90 million earmark for upgrades to the M1A2SEP variant.  The funding was added despite the repeated protests of Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, who has stated that the Army has more than enough tanks, and intends to delay the M1 upgrade program until 2017, saving taxpayers $3 billion.  Much of Congress disagrees with General Odierno’s assessment, since the tank has numerous suppliers spread across a vast number of congressional districts.  In fact, an April 2012 letter arguing for continuation of the upgrade program was cosigned by 173 representatives.  The legislation hints at the incentive for continuation of the program, stating that the funding will be used for maintaining critical industrial base capability.  Nothing like a good, old-fashioned jobs program disguised as national security.  Since FY 1994, members of Congress have added 31 earmarks for the M1 Abrams program costing taxpayers $519.2 million. 

The Navy’s troubled Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) received full funding, despite criticism regarding a perceived lack of firepower and survivability.  However, changes in the program have appeared on the horizon.  In planning for the FY 2015 budget, a January 6, 2014 memo from Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox recommended that the Navy limit the number of ships it intends to purchase to 32, rather than the 52 originally planned.  The Navy currently holds a contract for 24 ships, which expires after FY 2015.  As a result, the real fight over potential reduction of the LCS program will likely play out in the FY 2016 budget. 

The defense section in H.R. 3547 also included three earmarks costing $60 million for alternative energy research.  Since FY 2004, Congress has used the defense appropriations bill as a vehicle to insert 18 earmarks worth $169.9 million for this purpose, despite the fact that the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act supplies billions for alternative energy research every year. 

Finally, in an ugly bit of budget gimmickry, the appropriations package utilized the DOD’s Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO) to circumvent the defense cuts mandated by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.  This agreement required the elimination of $30 billion from the DOD’s FY 2014 budget request.  Members partially accomplished this goal by transferring more than $10 billion from the DOD’s base account into the OCO, which, since 2002, has been used to fund the nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has existed outside of the DOD’s base budget.  Despite the U.S. transition out of Afghanistan that will result in a 39 percent troop reduction from FY 2013 to FY 2014, funding for the OCO account will increase as a result of these budgetary shenanigans.  Eliminating the OCO account would restore some semblance of transparency in the Pentagon’s budget.

While it is encouraging that Congress finally addressed DCGS-A and MEADS, two programs with a long history of poor performance and cost overruns, it is also clear that room for improvement still exists.  Members of Congress should use the regular budget process, absent in recent years, to further restore fiscal sanity at the Pentagon. 

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