By way of background, an agency submits a reprogramming request when it doesn’t want or need to spend its appropriated funds the way Congress directed. The reasons for these requests are myriad. Sometimes the need to spend the money has disappeared before all the money was obligated or the need to spend on a particular program never materializes and all the appropriated funds are now available for another use. Could be that priorities have shifted or the administration simply doesn’t want to spend the money the way the Congress has intended.
Lawmakers place restrictions on fund transfers by requiring prior notification to Congress for transfers exceeding a certain amount. Congress has a limited period of time, typically 15-45 days, to review the request and approve it in whole, approve it in part, or reject it outright.
The latest request from the Pentagon is extensive and highly detailed. At TCS we read it and pulled out a few interesting highlights.
- “New starts” of at least 15 programs. Typically reprogrammings move money from lower to higher priority programs that actually exist. Starting a new program via shifting money away from a congressionally-approved program short circuits the congressional oversight process. New starts proposed in this request include the “Next Generation Rocket Assisted Projectile” for the Army and the establishment of the “Joint Artificial Intelligence Center” for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, just to name two. We certainly hope Congress isn’t foregoing its oversight role in the establishment of such long term programs.
- Also included in this request are at least 18 programs in the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) slush fund. We’ve written extensively about this boondoggle for many years.
- Ironically, one of the OCO programs that has money to spare is the Office of Military Commissions that is responsible for trying the accused terrorists being held at Guantanamo. They have close to $9 million they don’t need due to trials being delayed or cancelled. This money can be reprogrammed to a higher priority, okay, but why on earth would criminal proceedings be classified as contingencies in the first place? This is further proof that the original purposes of the OCO accounts are being strained beyond credulity.
- A relatively new wrinkle in OCO is the so-called European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) which is a slush fund within a slush fund. The Pentagon asks for authority to transfer funds in and out of at least five EDI/OCO accounts. And the accounts targeted sound suspiciously like items the Army simply needs or wants – which suggests they should be paid for out of the Army’s base budget request. The wish list is for additional night vision devices, armament repair shop sets, forklifts, refrigerated container systems and machinist measuring tool sets. None of these items sound like contingencies or, frankly, things the Army shouldn’t have in their stockpile. So why the hurry-up reprogramming request?
- The Navy is asking for more than $7 million to spend on consultants to “plan and execute a forward-looking learning culture in the aftermath of the two ship collisions.” Let’s be clear, the collisions were tragic events that cost too many sailors their lives. But the Navy has been operating ships for more than 200 years and learning how to navigate without hitting other ships is a core competency for the Navy that shouldn’t need outside consultants.
- Another interesting item is $28 million to replace the C-130 aircraft that provides logistics support as well as airlift for the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team. TCS is heartened to see the Navy is doing what it can to reduce the cost of replacing the plane by buying a pre-owned KC-130J. “The proposed replacement is a United Kingdom Royal Air Force (RAF) C-130 aircraft that is being offered for sale and can be procured at a substantial cost savings to the department of the Navy using funding from foreign material sales (FMS).” Kudos! Let’s talk later about whether the Blue Angels is a good use of federal funding in the first place…
- Finally, of the decreases that are being proposed to pay for these reprogrammings some are from very surprising accounts: pay and allowances. Just about half, in fact. $283 million from the Air Force, $159 million from the Navy, $112 million from the Marines and a whopping $1 billion from the Army. Much of this is chalked up to less cash needed for retention efforts, or fewer service members tapping new alternative retirement plans. Obviously, things don’t always go as predicted, but to be this far off – particularly in the case of the Army – seems to indicate a total lack of understanding of reality or willful ignorance of it.
There’s a lot of detail to review in this 85-page request. We hope the House and Senate Appropriations Committee take time to consider whether: 1) all of the requested new starts need to be funded right now without the usual level of oversight, 2) all of the programs requested under OCO meet the true definition of contingencies, 3) the EDI requests for the Army aren’t more appropriately funded under its base budget, and 4) the Navy really needs outside experts to solve its surface navigation shortfalls.
And, finally, we hope all concerned Congressional committees will look askance and with more scrutiny at personnel requests from the Army, given this $1 billion overstatement of the requirement.