Former Bernie Sanders press secretary: proposed defense budget includes excessive amount for private contractors

Briahna Joy Gray, a podcast host and former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, said on Monday the proposed U.S. defense budget for the next fiscal year includes billions of dollars for private contractors, which she said was “detrimental to our ability to effectively secure” national interests.

Gray told Hill.TV that funding for private military contractors can lead to wasteful government spending or put too much power into the hands of the private sector.

“Even if you were someone who agreed with military spending … all these private interests [are] involved, directing where the spending goes and how it’s done, spending it on these fighter jets that don’t work,” she said.

According to a Reuters report published last month, which cited three sources familiar, President Biden could propose to Congress a defense budget for the next fiscal year that exceeds $770 billion, a significant increase from what he asked for last year.

The report did not specify what portion of the proposed budget might go toward private contractors, but Reuters noted that the country’s biggest defense contractors, including Lockheed, Northrop Grumman Corp and General Dynamics Corp, would benefit.

A study released in September found that up to half of the $14 trillion the Pentagon has spent since the start of the Afghanistan War has gone to for-profit military contractors.

Gray said it was difficult to go up against the military and protest high defense spending because backers tend to levy accusations of anti-patriotism against people pushing to lower the bill. 

“It’s going to be an enormous, uphill battle,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of integrity from a myriad of people who know better not to cow down when those familiar drums of war start to get beaten.”

Gray’s comments come during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the last year, the U.S. has supported Ukraine with over $1 billion in security assistance, according to the State Department, and has pledged to continue supporting the country.