Budget deal blows the Pentagon’s diet

The Pentagon has been on a diet, of sorts. The Budget Control Act has forced the Pentagon to seriously consider how to cut the fat for the first time in decades. But a new budget deal would put pork back on its plate.

The bipartisan budget agreement orchestrated by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would increase Pentagon spending in fiscal year 2014 by more than $22 billion. This would have the negative effect of relieving budget pressure at the Pentagon—pressure that is finally forcing defense planners to make tough, yet strategic decisions about funding priorities. Murray and Ryan propose replacing Pentagon savings with, amongst other things, cuts to federal employee retirement programs and increases in airline ticket fees.

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What it doesn’t cut is wasteful and ineffective spending at the Pentagon. Doing so is necessary to enhance America’s global security posture in the 21st century. Two years ago, Congress agreed to save roughly $1 trillion from the Pentagon’s budget over the subsequent nine years – a Pentagon budget that had more than doubled since 1998. The Budget Control Act’s sequestration provision would only bring the military budget back down to 2006/2007 funding levels when the United States was engaged in two protracted ground wars. (No one at the time accused President Bush of being weak on defense spending).

How much waste and excessive spending is included in the Pentagon’s budget? Consider this: Currently, the Pentagon has 86 major defense systems under development.  Those systems are estimated to cost a combined $1.6 trillion to develop and procure. When compared to the original cost estimates, those 86 programs have grown in cost by over $400 billion.

Just one program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has grown more than 70 percent in price. It will be the most expensive procurement program in American history. Among the many reasons for its out-of-control cost growth is the fact that the military services are purchasing the aircraft before it has been fully developed or tested. As a result, each time a problem or design flaw is found, costly retrofits and redesigns are required, which slow down development and dramatically increase cost.

Under sequestration, the Air Force publicly stated that it would have to delay purchasing some of its variants of the Joint Strike Fighter in order to save money. This would also have the positive effect of slowing down concurrency development. However, if the Murray-Ryan deal is inked, this budget pressure will evaporate.

Another example is the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which is years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget, and is not expected to be survivable in hostile threat environments. The program has been plagued by flawed designs, failed equipment, and construction deficiencies, which have only fueled its excessive cost growth. Because of sequestration, the Pentagon has been actively considering cutting in half the number of LCS procured. But if the Murray-Ryan deal is passed, this important consideration will likely be shelved.

These are just two programs out of many that ought to be cancelled or significantly curtailed. Last year, POGO jointly released a list of recommendations with Taxpayers for Common Sense that could, if implemented, save close to $700 billion over the next decade. Other organizations from right to left have made additional suggestions. There is plenty of waste and ineffective spending from which to choose instead of asking airline passengers to pay more for plane tickets or cutting benefits from military retirees.

While Chairmen Murray and Ryan deserve kudus for finally setting aside partisan politics to strike a deal, it’s not one that addresses the profligate Pentagon spending that must be curtailed if we hope to make a dent in our nation’s debt and deficit problems.

Instead of passing the Murray-Ryan deal and letting the Pentagon off the hook, Congress should get to work crafting a defense appropriations bill that adheres to the post-sequester spending levels and prioritizes investments in national security programs that will enhance America’s security for decades to come.

Rosenkranz is national security analyst at the Project On Government Oversight.