The House subcommittee that writes the Pentagon’s annual spending bill released its fiscal year 2019 version last week. The press release trumpets all the money devoted to the Department of Defense: more than $606 billion in base budget funding and an additional $68 billion in the off-budget slush fund known as Overseas Contingency Operations.
Among the eye-popping lines is $9.4 billion for the F-35 aircraft. The bill funds 93 of them, 16 more than the Pentagon asked for in the coming year. Would it surprise you if we pointed out that the Lockheed Martin plant where the F-35 is fabricated is in the Fort Worth-based district of the subcommittee chair, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX)? No? Then probably you’ve been reading our commentary on these bills for a while. Follow the money, as the old saying goes.
Rep. Granger had this to say about the huge increase, “One of the main reasons is, on those big projects, the faster you can do it … the cheaper they sell…” We’ll be watching and waiting for the white sale pricing of the F-35. If we find any savings, we’ll be sure to let you know.
Meanwhile, as they always do, the House appropriators spent a lot of time telling the Pentagon what they can’t do. Because the legislative span of appropriations bills is only as long as the fiscal year, these provisions must be repeated year, after year, after year, ad nauseum, continuing their fiscal folly for years and in some cases decades. Among the provisions set in legislative boilerplate:
- Section 8016: anchor and mooring chain 4 inches or less in diameter must be manufactured in the U.S. from components substantially manufactured here.
- Section 8018: no more than half a million dollars may be used to move any military organizations into the National Capital Region.
- Section 8024: carbon, alloy or armor steel plate must be melted and rolled in the United States or Canada.
- Section 8036: reminding the Pentagon that they must comply with the so-called “Buy American Act.” This seems redundant as we are unaware of any contracting officers going “rogue” and refusing to comply with the law.
- Section 8044: ball and roller bearings must be manufactured in the United States. Fletch would be pleased.
- Section 8046: supercomputers must be manufactured in the United States unless the Secretary of Defense certifies a necessary computing capability is not available from the U.S. manufacturer. (Okay, we won’t quibble that this is a good idea – cybersecurity being what it is nowadays.)
- Section 8073: requiring the Air Force to maintain the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron where it is in Mississippi – which just happens to be in the Congressional district of Rep. Palazzo, a Republican Member of the Appropriations Committee. (Follow the money, second chapter.)
- Section 8079: requiring the Army to maintain its Contracting Command/New Jersey exactly where it is and at roughly the current personnel levels. The command is based at Picatinny Arsenal in the Congressional district of the all-powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Frelinghuysen. (Follow the money, third chapter.)
- Section 8099: requiring all American flags purchased by the Pentagon to be made in accordance with the so-called Berry Amendment – in other words, in the United States.
- Section 8110: requiring certain subcomponents of the TAO Fleet Oiler program to be manufactured in the United States.
- Section 8113: prohibiting the Pentagon from spending any money even thinking about closing any bases.
- Section 8125: prohibiting the Air Force to divest itself from more than one E-8C JSTARS aircraft unless certain requirements to continue the JSTARS program are met. And since the Air Force is in the midst of a legally contentious competition to replace the current aircraft, we suspect there are a lot of ways to follow this money.
- Section 8126: attempting to paper over the controversy of President’s Trump desire for a military parade in Washington, D.C. by requiring a determination by the Secretary of Defense that readiness will not be undermined.
We’ve saved the worst for last, because that old chestnut requiring the shipment of American coal to certain U.S. military bases in Germany is back.
- Section 8127 requires the “acquisition of furnished energy” for Rhine Ordnance Barracks Medical Center be “to the extent available, domestically sourced”.
Yes, after being killed in 2015 and again in 2016 by votes of the House of Representatives, the Coal to Kaiserslautern program is trying to make a comeback. And we’re working to kill it again with Rep. Huffman (D-CA). Why? Because it’s the poster child for what is wrong with Congress – partisanship and parochialism brushing aside common sense.
We’ve said this many times: the Pentagon should be allowed to set a fair standard for the goods it wants to buy and then buy the best product at the best price. And the Pentagon should be able to consider closing bases, moving missions or divesting itself of outdated or unneeded aircraft. Our troops deserve nothing less. Putting the Congressional thumb on the scale for a particular contractor, industry, or military base is crony capitalism and it’s wrong.