Pro-tip of Yesteryear – Always Read the General Provisions

AppropriationsPro-tip of Yesteryear – Always Read the General Provisions

National Security,  | Analysis
Jul 9, 2020  | 6 min read | Print Article

At Taxpayers for Common Sense we do love our numbers. One of our favorite things is to put on the green eyeshade, roll up our sleeves, and settle down with the numbers in a recent Congressional appropriations bill. The recent House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense report is just one of our favorite reads.

The most revealing and illustrative numbers are usually found in the tables accompanying the appropriations language in each bill, particularly in the massive Defense appropriations bills. Those tables tell myriad tales of how the Congress proposed to spend, or not spend, your tax dollars.

These weird pandemic times have exacerbated the delays that sometimes accompany the public release of those detailed tables. Careful readers of TCS budget analysis will recall our pro-tip of yesteryear: always read the General Provisions!

These tedious and often boilerplate provisions always tell an interesting tale of Congressional priorities. Because of the vagaries of Appropriations legislation, these provisions only have the force of law for the duration of the fiscal year. For that reason there are many, many boilerplate provisions that appear year after interminable year.  Cough – Coal to Kaiserslautern – cough! That’s not in this year’s bill, but it recently snuck back into the Pentagon policy bill. We’ll be working to get it stripped out. Again!

In that same vein, a provision begun in the 1980s, by a former and now-deceased member of the Maryland delegation lives on as,

Section 8016 – prohibiting the Pentagon from procuring “welded shipboard anchor and mooring chain 4 inches in diameter and under” unless it is manufactured in the U.S. with American components.

Section 8019 – limits to $500,000 the expenditure of funds to relocate DoD activities into or within the National Capital Region. This is a different kind of protectionism – making sure that whatever units are in a Members more far-flung Congressional District isn’t moved to the Washington region.

Section 8026 – continues the Buy American argument but this time for “carbon, alloy, or armor steel plate.” Again, pure protectionism written into the bill for donkey’s years. It’s these type of prohibitions on sound business and procurement practices that make it impossible to cut the cost of major procurement programs.

Section 8038 – a blanket requirement that all of DoD must adhere to the “Buy American Act”.  Are you sensing the theme here? Look, we get the argument that vital military technology should be purchased from U.S. forces, but welded mooring chain, steel plate, ball bearings (see Section 8046 directly below) flags (see Section 8097)? This is just backdoor earmarking by another name.

Executive Actions Don’t Replace Legislation

Section 8046 – ball and roller bearing must be American made and of American origin.

Section 8048 – Supercomputers must be manufactured in the United States. Okay, this one we agree with.

Section 8097 – and we’re back into silliness with requiring the purchase of U.S. flags for the Pentagon to be in accordance with the so-called “Berry Amendment”, an early adopter of Buy American requirements for textiles.

Section 8104 – Certain components for the TAO Fleet Oiler program must be manufactured in the United States: Auxiliary equipment (including pumps) for shipboard services; propulsion equipment (including engines, reduction gears, and propellers); shipboard cranes; and spreaders for shipboard cranes. This section has been expanded to include the Navy’s new Frigate program and requires a long list of components including “totally enclosed lifeboats” and “auxiliary chill water systems” must be of U.S. manufacture. This sounds to us more like ensuring market share for a company in someone’s Congressional District, than sensitive military equipment.

Section 8129 – More requirements for Buy American in shipbuilding programs, this time “hull, mechanical, and electrical components.”

Section 8130 – prohibits the Navy from decommissioning any of its Littoral Combat Ships. Which they are planning to do. Yeah, it seems ridiculous that the Navy seeks to get rid of part of its multi-billion dollar investment in this program – that’s less than 15 years old – but do we really want the Navy spending money to maintain and operate ships that are not meeting the mission? (They’re not nicknamed “Little Crappy Ships” for no reason!)

Section 8134 – prohibits the use of any DoD appropriations, in this bill or previous ones, from being used to build border barriers. Hooray! We can end this dreary list with some fiscal sense. Pentagon money should never be transferred to a responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security. This is why Pentagon spending tops $700 billion a year – using it as a piggybank for other agency priorities should be non-starter.

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