House Defense Bills Break with Pentagon Guidance | Citizens Against Government Waste

House Defense Bills Break with Pentagon Guidance

The WasteWatcher

The annual defense spending bill process is a blend of the often-conflicting preferences of the Department of Defense (DOD), which makes the initial budget request, the Armed Service committees, which authorize spending, and the Appropriations committees, which set the amount that can be spent.

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 Defense Appropriations Act, passed by the House of Representatives on June 28, 2024, neatly encapsulated the diverging priorities that occur among these three participants in the annual defense spending cycle.  One of the more costly differences was a provision in the appropriations bill that funded the purchase of 76 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, eight more than the 68 requested by the DOD. 

The House Rules Committee refused a floor vote for a bipartisan amendment offered by House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and HASC members Jennifer Kiggans (R-Va.) and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) that would have reduced the number of JSFs purchased to 58, in line with the amount contained in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed by the House on June 14, 2024.  The amendment would have cut spending by $2 billion and transferred $526 million of that amount to help improve current JSF development, testing, and production.

Exceeding the Pentagon’s JSF request is a remarkably shortsighted and tone-deaf idea.  In continuous development since the initial contract was awarded in 2001, total acquisition costs exceed $428 billion, or 84 percent greater than the initial estimate of $233 billion.  According to an April 15, 2024, Government Accountability Office report, total lifetime costs of the program will now exceed $2 trillion, or 17.7 percent more than the previous $1.7 trillion estimate in September 2023.

Most of the problems in the program stem from the catastrophic financial decision to begin purchasing the JSF prior to the end of its development phase.  Whenever problems have been identified, contractors needed to go back and make changes to planes that were already assembled and sold to the DOD, adding to overall costs.  In this way, purchasing JSFs in numbers excess to that requested by the DOD adds to spending in both the short and long term.

The number of Virginia-class submarines to be purchased in FY 2025 represents a second area of disagreement.  The House Defense Appropriations Act included funding for one vessel, matching the Pentagon’s request, but the House NDAA included incremental funding for a second submarine. 

On May 1, 2024, HASC members Joe Courtney (D-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) along with 118 other legislators sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee arguing for a second Virginia-class submarine in FY 2025.  The letter stated, “Preserving a consistent production schedule is essential for shipyard and industrial base stability, and to meet the Navy’s operational requirements.”  Parochial politics dressed up as industrial base concerns should not play a role in defense policy limited by a finite budget.

The Senate will also weigh in on the number of JSFs and Virginia-class submarines to be purchased in FY 2025 (among other conflicting spending priorities), further complicating matters.  Legislators should endeavor to rein in spending on the out-of-control JSF program and follow Pentagon guidance on the number of necessary Virginia-class submarines.