The Pentagon has decided to use $380 million from the continuing resolution passed last month to fund a joint missile defense program, despite a provision in last year’s Defense authorization bill specifically prohibiting funding the program.
In a letter sent Monday to the German and Italian Defense ministers, Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelAfghan interpreter who helped rescue Biden: 'If they find me, they will kill me' Afghan interpreter who helped extract Biden, other senators in 2008 asks president to save him Democrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance MORE said the U.S. would provide the money in 2013 for development of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a joint venture between the three countries.
“The appropriated amount, less the sequester reduction, will be the final U.S. contribution to the MEADS program,” Hagel wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill. "I am pleased we are able to fulfill our commitment."
MEADS has long been in the cross-hairs of congressional lawmakers, as the Army decided two years ago it would not procure the missile defense system.
But the Pentagon has urged the completion of development for MEADS anyway, in order to manufacture the technology and uphold its obligations to NATO allies.
The program is produced by MEADS International, a group of international defense firms headed by Lockheed Martin.
Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (R-N.H.) led the charge against MEADS during debate on the government funding measure last month, calling the system the “missile to nowhere.”
"It's outrageous that the administration is 'pleased' to provide this funding, especially at the same time the Defense Department has begun grounding combat aircraft as a result of sequestration," Ayotte said in a statement to The Hill Tuesday.
Defense officials argued that the termination costs associated with breaking the U.S. contract to the Germans and Italians were roughly the same as the costs for developing the program, so they said that the money might as well go toward the program.
Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann confirmed the Pentagon would fund the program. She said the money would provide for an intercept flight test in late 2013 and closing out the program.
"This final year of funding will allow the program office to complete the archival of data from the development and test program so that each participant will have a database of the design and performance data that can be used in future air and missile defense efforts," Schumann said.
The Pentagon and some lawmakers in Congress still disagree, however, over how the Pentagon should be using the $380 million for the program that was in the continuing resolution.
Appropriators had said in the legislation that the money could either go toward developing the program or covering termination costs.
The House Appropriations Committee, however, said that the funds could only be used for termination costs, because the National Defense Authorization Act specifically prohibited using money to develop the program.
Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said Tuesday that the Pentagon’s decision was not in compliance with the law.
“The committee’s position is that the funding provided for MEADS should be used for termination costs only, as prescribed by the Defense Authorization bill,” Hing said. “We do not believe that any other use of the funds would be in compliance with the law.”
The House Armed Services Committee also disagreed with the Pentagon and said it was ignoring "very clear congressional intent," an aide said. The aide said the committee would work with appropriators to ensure this situation does not occur again.
The Pentagon, however, argued the continuing resolution "effectively superseded" the authorization bill, and as a result funding MEADS is not prohibited.
"As the most recent expression of Congress's direction with regard to MEADS, the Appropriations Act itself must be given full force and effect," Schumann said.
Ayotte attempted last month to strip the MEADS funding with an amendment to the funding resolution. But the amendment was not given a vote, thanks in part to efforts from the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), as his state houses jobs for the weapon program.
Raytheon, which is headquartered in the Northeast, lobbied hard against MEADS, as the defense firm has the rival Patriot Missile program that MEADS was supposed to supplant.
During the Senate’s budget vote-a-rama, Ayotte successfully included a measure that prohibited funds for the program in 2014, although that was nonbinding.
MEADS International said in a statement that the funding "will enable the U.S., Germany and Italy to demonstrate the advanced 360-degree capabilities of MEADS in a tactical ballistic missile intercept test later this year."
This story was last updated at 5:18 p.m.