This afternoon the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs showed a little leg on the subject of the fiscal year 2015 Pentagon budget. At Taxpayers for Common Sense we will reserve our final judgment on the budget request until we see the details, but here are our thoughts on some of the briefing “highlights.”
The Secretary said, “We chose to terminate or delay some modernization programs to protect higher priorities in procurement, research, and development.”
Our Take: We’re glad to hear the Pentagon believes some terminations are in order. We’ll be interested to see the SECDEF’s full list of program terminations. If they are looking for suggestions, look no further.
The Secretary said, “…the President’s budget will include an Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative. … It would provide an additional $26 billion for the Defense Department in Fiscal Year 2015.”
Our Take: Call it what you will: Unfunded Requirements List, Unfunded Priorities List or the Opportunity Growth and Security Initiative, this will take us dangerously close to the bad-old-days of earmarking.
The Secretary said, “DoD will ask Congress for another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2017.”
Our Take: We strongly agree with the SECDEF’s call for another round of BRAC. We think it should come sooner than 2017, but this is better than nothing. Now, if only Congress will approve it this time.
The Secretary said, “If sequestration-level cuts are re-imposed in 2016 and beyond … resulting in 24 fewer F-35s purchased through Fiscal Year 2019.”
Our take: Why wait for sequestration? As we have said before, let’s just do without those 24 F-35s. In fact, we support cancelling the entire buy of F-35s and purchasing existing aircraft instead. If the Pentagon was doing that starting this fiscal year, we calculate the savings would be over $4.5 billion, just in fiscal year 2014.
The Secretary said, “…the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers. Therefore, no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward.”
Our Take: We think the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) could be terminated today to save a lot of money. This class of ships is being asked to do too many divergent missions and is doomed to do poorly at all of them. If the program had been cancelled this year, the Pentagon would have saved at least $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2014.
The Secretary said, “…terminate the current Ground Combat Vehicle program and re-direct the funds toward developing a next-generation platform.”
Our Take: Terminate the Ground Combat Vehicle AND forget about its replacement, too.
The Secretary said, “…a one percent raise in basic pay for military personnel – with the exception of general and flag officers, whose pay will be frozen for one year.”
Our Take: In the last decade, the cost of military pay and benefits has grown much faster than those same costs in the private sector. We strongly support the freeze on pay for Generals and Admirals. In fact, maybe we could make do with fewer senior officers? We also believe pay and benefits for all service members should be reviewed in recognition that this is an all-volunteer force and the Secretary said today all services are meeting their recruitment goals.
The Secretary said, “Over three years, we will reduce by $1 billion the annual direct subsidy provided to military commissaries, which now totals $1.4 billion.”
Our Take: Commissaries are a relic of a time when military bases were in remote locations with few or no choices for grocery shopping. We believe all commissaries in the U.S. should be closed, not just have their subsidy reduced. Our analysis shows this move could save a substantial portion of the current $1.4 billion direct subsidy the commissaries receive every year.
The Secretary said, “We will ask retirees and some active-duty family members to pay a little more in their [TRICARE] deductibles and co-pays, but their benefits will remain affordable and generous… as they should be.”
Our Take: We agree with increasing what people pay for their generous TRICARE benefits and have been calling for exactly this kind of reform. The analysis done by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates cost savings of almost $6.5 billion if these reforms were enacted in this fiscal year.
The Secretary said: “We also preserved all three legs of the nuclear triad.”
Our Take: At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe this is a missed opportunity to save money and reduce one portion of our nuclear arsenal. We believe that silo-based ICBMs are the least survivable and should be retired. A recent CBO report begins the important process of estimating the costs of modernizing and reducing the current nuclear arsenal.