House Appropriations Boosts Spending for Costly F-35 Program… Again | Citizens Against Government Waste

House Appropriations Boosts Spending for Costly F-35 Program… Again

The WasteWatcher

On Wednesday, June 13, 2018, the House Committee on Appropriations passed the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Defense Appropriations bill by a vote of 48-4.  The bill provides $674.6 billion in total spending for the Department of Defense (DOD), including $606.5 billion in base discretionary spending as well as $68.1 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account.  As has become commonplace, this annual legislation provides funding for programs that the DOD simply does not need, including an increase in funding for the largest and most expensive weapons system in history: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs).

In development since 2001, the F-35 program continues to be one of the shining examples of waste in the Pentagon.  Total acquisition costs now exceed $406 billion, nearly double the initial estimate of $233 billion, and the program is seven years behind schedule.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has consistently questioned the long-term affordability and viability of the F-35 program.  In March 2012, GAO assessed the cost of 96 major defense acquisition programs, including JSFs, and reported that the F-35s were responsible for $39 billion, or 52 percent of the overall $74.4 billion in program costs for 2011.  In 2015, GAO reported that the lifetime costs of the operation and support of F-35s may exceed $1 trillion.  And most recently, on June 5, 2018, the GAO reported that while the DOD is getting closer to completion of the F-35 program, the beginning of full-scale production in 2019 is not recommended due to the “reliability and affordability of the aircraft.  GAO recommends that DOD correct all technical flaws with the F-35s before deciding to begin full-rate production on aircrafts that require costly, long-term maintenance.  The report also suggests that Congress consider “withholding funding from the next increment of F-35 development until DOD provides an independent cost estimate, a technology assessment, and takes other actions.”

Instead, Congress has made the decision to continue to throw money at this very costly program, despite the aircraft’s plethora of critical deficiencies.  The FY 2019 Defense Appropriations bill provides $9.4 billion to purchase 93 new F-35 JSFs, a near 21 percent increase above President Trump’s budget request of 77.  GAO estimates that at its current rate, the F-35 program will require an additional $10.4 billion more per year on average for the next 20 years.

In 2016, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) described the F-35 program as “a scandal and a tragedy.”  Considering Congress’ willingness to empty taxpayer wallets and bust budget caps, the 21 percent increase for the highly questionable F-35 program should come as no surprise.  Instead of frivolously spending more on the most expensive defense acquisitions program in history, Congress should aim to make reforms to DOD’s procurement process and take GAO’s advice to curb wasteful spending in the program until the development phase is completed.