The Pentagon’s proposed $582 billion budget is more than enough to address current security challenges.  But members of Congress who agreed to this spending level in last year’s budget deal are already crying out for more.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has suggested that additional funding be added to the war budget, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO.  His rationale is that adding a total of about $5 billion to boost the fight against ISIS and deploy additional weapons and personnel to Europe will bust the budget.  But this spending, which amounts to less than one per cent of the total resources available to the Pentagon under the current proposal, is no reason to go beyond the spending levels set out in last year’s budget deal.

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The new expenditures for fighting ISIS and reassuring European allies can be easily accommodated without raising the administration’s proposed war budget of $59 billion.  This account has regularly been used as a slush fund to pay for items the Pentagon wants that have nothing to do with fighting any current conflict.  Estimates by the Congressional Research Service and independent analysts suggest that at least $100 billion has been added to the OCO budget over the years to pay for non-war costs.  And in last year’s budget debate the negotiators abandoned even the pretext that the war budget was being limited to its intended purpose.

Supporters of more OCO funding will argue that one way or another increased spending on ISIS and European defense will blow a hole in the Pentagon’s base budget.  Even if we acknowledge that the war budget is padded with unrelated expenditures, they argue, those funds are needed to fund essential programs that don’t fit under the current caps on regular Pentagon spending.  But this argument assumes that all of the expenditures in the Pentagon’s current budget are essential for defending the country.  That is not the case.

For starters, there are billions of dollars of investment slated for programs that aren’t ready for prime time, or may not be needed at all.  For example, the F-35 combat aircraft – which at an estimated $1.4 trillion over its lifetime is the most expensive weapons program undertaken by the Pentagon – continues to be plagued by performance problems.  A recent report by the Pentagon’s independent testing office noted that moving too quickly on the program would reduce the incentive for the plane’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, to “correct an already substantial list of deficiencies in performance, a list that will only lengthen as . . . testing continues.”  

Another area where spending can be reduced is in the plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, with investments in a new bomber, a new land-based ballistic missile, a new ballistic missile submarine, and a new nuclear-armed cruise missile.    In particular, spending money now on a new nuclear cruise missile is redundant and ill advised, as former secretary of Defense William Perry and other experts have pointed out.

Then there is the Pentagon’s shadow work force – the hundreds of thousands of private contractors hired by the department.  Many of them do work that could be done by government employees more cheaply and efficiently, and some do tasks that aren’t necessary in the first place.  Cutting here could save tens of billions of dollars over the next decade.

Finally, there is the sheer volume of waste, fraud and abuse that continues to plague Pentagon spending.  For example, the most recent assessment by the Government Accountability Office suggests that the Pentagon may be sitting on nearly $1 billion in excess spare parts.  Better buying practices could prevent this wasteful buying pattern from persisting into the future, saving billions in the process. 

What is really needed is for Congress to give the Pentagon a financial incentive to get its books in order.  The Department of Defense is the only major U.S. government agency that cannot pass an audit. Bills that would press it to do so have been put forward by members of Congress that range from Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Michael BurgessMichael BurgessNew hope for ObamaCare repeal? Key GOP lawmaker working on amendment ObamaCare repeal: GOP seeks new game plan Ryan transfers record M to House GOP's campaign arm in March MORE (R-Texas) to Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHeitkamp, Manchin under pressure over GOP regs bill Dem senator: Mueller ‘great choice’ to lead Russia probe Rosenstein to be grilled today on Trump bombshells MORE (D-W.Va.), Ron WydenRon WydenDems demand answers on report that admin tried to trade ObamaCare payments Week ahead: Tech awaits Trump budget Russia probes in limbo after special prosecutor announcement MORE (D-Ore.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersSpike Lee on Trump: Bad dancer, 'not my president' Biden fuels 2020 speculation Sanders stumps for Quist in Montana MORE (I-VT), Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP talks of narrowing ‘blue-slip’ rule for judges Grassley: Don't expect anti-Trump leaks to stop after special counsel appointed GOP senator wouldn’t be ‘surprised’ if Comey forced to cancel testimony MORE (R-Iowa) and Ted CruzTed CruzGOP talks of narrowing ‘blue-slip’ rule for judges Abortion poses hurdle for Senate healthcare bill Senator's photo spurs caption contest MORE (R-Texas).  It’s time for their fellow members of Congress to get on board and support this essential step.

So, before we heed the calls for more spending in the war budget, we should take a close look at how the Pentagon is spending the funds it already has.

Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.