As we wrote when the Biden Administration released an outline of FY22 discretionary spending, there isn’t a lot to comment upon when it comes to details of the Pentagon budget. However, we can take some broad indications from the outline.
First, the undeniably good news: no money was requested in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget lines. Ding-Dong this ridiculous budget witch, er, dodge is dead. Pretending that the United States has to pay for its wars “on spec” was just a lot of mumbo jumbo designed to get around the caps placed on both defense and non-defense spending by the Budget Control Act. It didn’t actually fool anyone and we agree with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) declaration that this is a “significant budgetary reform.”
Second, the topline for discretionary spending at the Pentagon is set at $715 billion. (The total FY22 national security topline, which includes military programs at the Department of Energy, is unknown at this time.) This analysis is of only Pentagon spending, a subset of national security spending.
Keep in mind that there is also some mandatory spending at the Pentagon. At this time last year, the Trump Administration forecast $10.6 billion in mandatory spending in FY22. If there are no significant changes to the mandatory accounts, the total Pentagon topline would be roughly $725 billion for FY22.
Not only is this greater than the $705.4 billion for the Pentagon in the current fiscal year, but it is also greater than the Trump Administration forecast for Pentagon spending in FY22 which was $722 billion.
These are the numbers. How people present these numbers is heavily influenced by the message they want to send – either that a) the Biden Administration is gutting defense spending, or b) Pentagon spending is evading any true cost cutting. Spoiler alert: it isn’t “a.” Let’s face it – to be a “gutting” it’s got to be pretty draconian and to call an increase a gutting well, let’s say you’ve never actually gone fishing.
The rest of the budget outline, as it pertains to the Pentagon is plenty opaque. But at Taxpayers for Common Sense we’ve read a budget outline (or 25) over the years and we can glean from what is said and what isn’t said. Interestingly, the much-touted review of legacy systems recently begun at the Pentagon is ongoing. The OMB outlines states the discretionary request will support, “DOD’s plan to divest legacy systems and programs to redirect resources from low- to high-priority programs, platforms, and systems. Some legacy force structure is too costly to maintain and operate, and no longer provides the capabilities needed to address national security challenges.”
We call that a good start. We’ve been saying for years that many legacy systems are more expensive to operate and maintain. In fact, we came up with a list of systems for consideration during the review. We eagerly anticipate the results of this program review and hope Congress will allow the Pentagon to divest of expensive and, sometimes, less capable programs without the first two considerations being, “Who makes it?” and “Where is it stationed?” Unfortunately, all Pentagon decisions to save money or change direction have become as contentious as trying to close a military base – in other words, impossible.
The single paragraph that the budget outline devotes to shipbuilding is vague but still manages to sound expensive. Specifically, it commits to continuing the modernization of the submarine fleet, both ballistic missile subs and the fast attack ones. Ka-ching! It also states the Navy will invest in remotely operated and autonomous systems. As to the new generation of big deck aircraft carriers (the Ford class), no word yet, just a vague reference to “executable and responsible investments” in the entire Navy fleet.
Modernization of the entire nuclear triad seems to receive tepid support. The OMB outline states a nuclear posture review is ongoing and that the Biden Administration supports the current program of modernization, “while ensuring that these efforts are sustainable.” That’s code for “can we really afford this?” We say no and hope that plans to replace the current silo-based Minuteman Missile system with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent recently dubbed “The Money Pit Missile” will be scrapped.
Count us among the people and groups eagerly awaiting the release of more Pentagon budget details. The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) called on the Pentagon to send the detailed request by May 10th. Any date later than that is sure to short-circuit proper Congressional oversight and cause a legislative logjam for bills that authorize and appropriate the Pentagon budget.
Whenever it comes out, TCS will delve into the details and let you know what we find.