Our Take

Defense Authorization Bill: More Money, Less Savings

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December 21, 2012

The Senate today passed the final version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, though late, will still beat the FY13 defense spending bill to the President’s desk. The NDAA adds $1.7 billion to the topline of the Defense Department (DOD)’s request, bringing the bill’s total to $633 billion--$527.5 for the base budget, $17.4 for nuclear weapons and $88.5 for war funding.

The conferees defend this increase by embracing a budgetary gimmick employed by the House Armed Services Committee when it passed its bill last May. HASC’s version of the bill was $4 billion above the amount requested by the White House in February and $8 billion above the limit set by the Budget Control Act (BCA). As we pointed out, this dodge was employed to get lawmakers out of the commitment they had made just a few months earlier to split discretionary cuts equally between defense and non-defense spending—a commitment we think they should keep.

Did the extra money actually help the Pentagon? Not according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who criticized the legislation earlier this week for diverting “about $74 billion of what we asked for in savings… to other areas that, frankly, we don't need.” The many DOD savings proposals rejected by Congress include:

  • Increases to TRICARE insurance fees. The bill instead includes what conferees called a “modest” increase in pharmacy co-pays capped by cost-of-living allowances (COLAs), as well as incentives for some members to buy drugs through mail order.
  • Retiring aircraft including the C-5A, C-27 and C-130 cargo planes stationed at Air National Guard bases across the country. Also added $133 million to keep alive the Global Hawk drone program, which DOD wanted to end.
  • Halting the M-1 Abrams tank line, produced in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The bill adds $136 million to keep the line warm.
  • Requires construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project (CMRR), a plutonium processing facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico that has racked up substantial cost and schedule overruns while failing to justify its size and expense.
  • Early retirement of at least three Navy Cruisers.

Another item we suspect Panetta would put in the “unneeded” pile: An East Coast Missile Defense site. The House version of the bill added money to begin construction of a new ground-based missile defense installation to protect the East Coast from Iranian and North Korean rockets, despite the fact that the multiple installations in California have yet to prove their functionality. The final version requires the Pentagon to “evaluate” possible locations and prepare an environmental impact statement for the installation, but doesn’t authorize any additional money for it.

One thing we’re glad the final NDAA kept: Language that would require a detailed estimate of nuclear weapons modernization costs over the next decade. As we told members of the Armed Services committees in a letter last month, these provisions are critical to planning for upcoming defense costs like the $10+ billion next-generation bomber.

You can find more information plus our recommendations on many of these programs in “Spending Even Less, Spending Even Smarter,” our recently updated report with the Project on Government Oversight detailing how to save nearly $700 billion in defense spending without compromising our national security.

 

Filed under: Stop Waste, Prioritize Investments

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