The Highs and Lows of the 2018 NDAA | Citizens Against Government Waste

The Highs and Lows of the 2018 NDAA

The WasteWatcher

On November 16, 2017, the Conference Report for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year (FY) 2018 was sent to President Trump to sign into law after swiftly passing both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The NDAA authorizes defense spending levels and prioritizes how the money will be spent at the Department of Defense (DOD) for a given year.  While the 2018 NDAA certainly had improvements for information technology (IT) and procurement process reform, it continues to irresponsibly grow defense spending and double down on completely wasteful initiatives.

The NDAA provides $700 billion in topline spending for national defense, $26.1 billion more than President Trump’s budget request.  This increase over the administration’s budget request signals a decline in strict oversight on expenditures, and in turn, encourages wasteful spending at the DOD.

Included in that $700 billion total is a specifically sharp thorn in the effort to curb wasteful spending: the authorization of $65.8 billion in additional funding for the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) account. 

Created in 2001 to fund the country’s military engagements abroad, the OCO account was intended to be a one-time emergency supplemental.  However, over the past seven years, members of Congress and the executive branch have utilized the OCO to bypass the spending limit imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011.  Much of the spending contained in the account in recent years has been used for nonemergency-related spending that could easily be incorporated into the regular budget.

In addition, the 2018 NDAA continues to increase funding for programs that simply do not need it.  For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) program is currently six years behind schedule and approximately $170 billion over budget.  Any increase would add to overall costs, as the delivered aircraft would eventually need to be retrofitted with modifications that are still under development.  In FY 2017, members of Congress earmarked $500 million for four additional JSFs, and this year’s NDAA proves Congress’ willingness to spend even more on earmarks for the troubled program in FY 2018.  The 2018 NDAA authorizes $10.1 billion to procure 90 JSF aircraft, an increase of $2.6 billion and 20 aircraft above the administration’s request.

Among other wasteful expenditures included in the 2018 NDAA are $1.1 billion for unnecessary and unwanted M1 Abrams tanks and $1.5 billion for Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), which is $900 million and 2 LCSs more than the administration’s request.

Senate Armed Services Comdmittee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called LCS spending “an unfortunate and classic example” of wasteful defense procurement.  While the costs and mechanical issues with LCSs continue to skyrocket, inherent design flaws keep the ships from being effective and will eventually become nonoperational.

The 2018 NDAA does, however, provide for some positive changes in defense procurement processes.  The conferees should be strongly applauded for the elimination of Sections 881 and 886 from the Senate-passed version of the 2018 NDAA.  These provisions would have promoted costly sole source, government-based technology concepts over proven private sector solutions, while violating longstanding neutrality procurement policies.  Eliminating these provisions has helped to prevent threats to both intellectual property rights and national security.

The 2018 NDAA also encourages IT modernization and defense procurement reform efforts, including the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, first introduced by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), which establishes a Technology Modernization Fund to subsidize efforts to modernize agency technology, enhance cybersecurity, and improve efficiency and effectiveness throughout the government.

In addition, the 2018 NDAA also provides for the DOD to use commercial e-commerce portals to help streamline the acquisition process through the use of competitive and simplified online marketplaces.

While much progress is made in some of the IT and military procurement provisions, the 2018 NDAA leaves much to be desired when it comes to fiscal restraint.  Once again, Congress chooses the path to spend more taxpayer money on unnecessary defense programs instead of reining-in the DOD’s wasteful spending.

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