The sanctimonious Congress needs to look in the mirror

The sanctimonious Congress is once again throwing stones out of its glass house.

It loves to complain about waste in the defense budget. Several Senators have now introduced the “Audit the Pentagon Act”, which would force the DOD to be audit-ready by 2017, while lecturing the DOD about “fiscal accountability”. Non-governmental organizations such as POGO and the NTU also love to lecture the DOD about “fiscal accountability”.

But the truth is that while the DOD is not an innocent virgin, the CONGRESS, not the DOD, is to blame for the vast majority of waste in the defense budget (and I’m talking about real waste and inefficiencies, not crucial military capabilities that POGO and other leftist groups deem “waste”).

Just a few examples:

  • The DOD has repeatedly, several times during the last several years, requested authorization for painful, but necessary DOD healthcare program reforms, including modest TRICARE premium increases. The Congress has repeatedly refused to authorize them (except a limited premium hike in FY2012). These proposals, to quote Sec. Gates, “repeatedly die an ignominous death on Capitol Hill.”
  • The DOD has repeatedly requested authorization for a sweeping military retirement system reform. It has submitted such proposal in the FY2013 budget request. Congress has rejected it, and some of its members, such as John Kline, have even berated Sec. Panetta for proposing it. Under the current system, if you complete 20 years of service and retire at your prime as a LTCOL or LCDR or Sergeant Major (when you’re in your 40s or early 50s), you get a full pension, but if you retire after “only” 10 or 19 years of service, you get nothing.
  • The DOD has repeatedly requested BRAC authority. Sec. Panetta has requested authorization for two BRAC rounds, because the DOD has exquisite base infrastructure. The FY2013 NDAAs passed by both the House and the SASC explicitly PROHIBIT them.
  • The DOD, faced with a mandate to cut $487 bn out of its budgets over the next 10 years, has proposed to retire hundreds of old, costly-to-maintain niche aircraft such as the A-10, the C-27, and the Sherpa, and the Block 30 Global Hawk, which is also too expensive to maintain. The House and Senate versions of the FY2013 NDAA would both force the DOD to maintain the Guard and Reserve aircraft, and, in the House’s case, the Block 30 GH.
  • Laws passed by Congress currently require the DOD to submit over 900 reports and thousands of pages of justifications to the Congress every year. So far, Congress has not repealed any of them. The “Audit the Pentagon Act” would gratiously allow the DOD to propose which reporting requirements to eliminate… but the Congress could still ignore the DOD’s proposal (and will likely do so).
  • The DOD needs Congressional approval to shift even small sums of money from one program to another and to build even so much as a $500,000 building.
  • The DOD can’t get anything without authorization from six separate Congressional committees.
  • The budget process is done annually, not biennially, so every year, the DOD has to repeat its work on budget proposals, justifications, reports, and testimonies.
  • Congress routinely inserts pork projects, aircraft, and other funding not requested by the DOD into the annual NDAAs and Defense Appropriations bills. The President cannot line-item veto or impound them. (The Congress took  away that prerogative from him in 1974.)

It is therefore utterly hypocritical of Congress to lecture the DOD about, and criticize it for, “waste” when the Congress is to blame for the majority of waste in the defense budget. Instead of throwing stones out of its glass house and delivering sermons, the Congress needs to authorize the reforms that the DOD requests, stop adding pork projects into defense budgets, and end its micromanagement of the DOD. Then, the vast majority of the  “waste” in the defense budget will be gone.


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