At the Pentagon, Legislators Should Stress Increased Efficiency, Not Blank Checks | Citizens Against Government Waste

At the Pentagon, Legislators Should Stress Increased Efficiency, Not Blank Checks

The WasteWatcher

On July 14, 2021, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act for fiscal year (FY) 2022.  The bill provides $706 billion for the Pentagon, a 1.4 percent increase from the $696 billion in FY 2021.

Several House Republicans have argued that the Pentagon deserves a more substantial increase in resources.  In response to the bill’s approval, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas), no stranger to arguing for increased spending, stated, “Now is the time to prioritize our national security funding, not shortchange it.”

The rationale for an increase in defense spending is undermined by the Pentagon’s dismal financial picture.  The DOD remains the sole federal agency to have never undergone a clean audit under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  The Pentagon estimates that 17 of its 24 agencies will not be able to pass a clean audit before 2027, or 27 years after it was required to do so by law.

The DOD’s acquisition portfolio is plagued by cost overruns and poor performance.  The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) remains the very embodiment of the Pentagon’s broken acquisition system.  On July 13, 2021, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the program is more than eight years delayed and $165 billion over budget.  As of July 2021, the JSF has 857 technical deficiencies, with seven classified as “critical.”  These issues, which fall under the 1B category, represent a “critical impact on mission readiness.”  Two of these deficiencies have no set timelines for when they are to be resolved. 

The F-35 is projected to reach a tipping point in 2036 where projected sustainment costs will become prohibitively expensive.  According to the GAO, the DOD will face a $6 billion gap between the actual cost of sustaining the service’s JSFs and what it can afford.  The program is expected to cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion across its lifecycle, with $1.3 trillion coming from sustainment activities.  This reflects an increase of more than $150 billion since the program was re-baselined in 2012, and there are signs sustainment expenses may continue to grow.

Another glaring example is the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which has been riddled with problems including a vague mission, lack of survivability, and design flaws.  The latest setback came in January 2021, when the DOD announced it halted deliveries of the Freedom-class LCS because of a transmission design flaw.  In 2018, the GAO reported that “deliveries of almost all LCS under contract have been delayed by several months, and, in some cases, a year or longer.”  The platform’s problems have become so severe that there are now talks of ditching its original intended use and instead utilizing the LCS as “high-speed, armed transports.”

In December 2019, the Navy determined that the cost of fixing the first four ships produced was too high, and proposed decommissioning the vessels.  However, the current bill blocked the effort to retire three out of four LCSs, citing “a misuse of taxpayer funds.” 

The elimination of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account represents one positive step in rectifying the DOD’s woeful financial management.  For the first time since its inception in 2001, President Biden did not request funding in FY 2022.  The OCO was used to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but long included billions for Pentagon projects that had nothing to do with current conflicts, and which should have been funded in the DOD’s baseline budget.  Moreover, OCO funding levels have far outpaced the number of troops deployed in conflict zones in recent years.

Despite eliminating the OCO, the Pentagon’s budget has become too large, routinely taking up more than half of annual U.S. discretionary spending.  The $706 billion in the House defense bill for FY 2022 is more than double the $331.8 billion spent in 2001.  Since that year, defense spending has steadily increased, reaching $752.3 billion in 2011.  After a brief drop, the Pentagon’s budget has continued to grow since 2015 and is currently on a trend to approach, if not surpass, the 2011 level.

If legislators are looking for more money for the Pentagon, they should first find savings within the budget.  Holding the DOD accountable for poor performance and wasted spending is the first step in addressing substantial problems with the defense budget.

-Irene Caracioni

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