Some Common Sense Served Up With A Side Dish of Parochialism

Weekly WastebasketSome Common Sense Served Up With A Side Dish of ParochialismBackdoor earmarks persist.

Last week the House passed the National Defense Authorization legislation for Fiscal Year 2020. As it is every year, this is a huge bill.  And because it is one of the few remaining bills that reliably passes year in and year out, it always attracts hundreds of amendments covering just as many topics. Because we know how to have fun, we scoured through every one of those proposed amendments. Not all the ones we took a position on were actually debated, but of those that did, there are a few worthy of full explanation.

Representative Omar’s (D-MN) offered an amendment that would simply require an annual report on the cost of each overseas operation where the armed forces are engaged. This was an easy one for us to support: the best way to spend effectively and efficiently is to know how much you’re spending. Common sense prevailed, but just barely, with a recorded vote of 219-210. We’re frankly gobsmacked that 210 Members of the House don’t believe they need an annual accounting of the cost of operations overseas.

For the third time in four years, Rep. Huffman (D-CA) attempted to drive a stake through the heart of a decades-old indefensible provision that required the military to purchase coal in Pennsylvania and ship it overseas to heat a single military base in Germany. We’ve railed against this policy for years, given it the “Golden Fleece” award, and supported amendments to end the practice. We were joined by several budget watchdog colleagues in support and glad to see it adopted. Now it’s over to the Senate to make it stick. This is the most recent illustration of something a former lawmaker told our staff years ago: when you are trying to eliminate wasteful spending, you need to kill, kill, kill until it is dead, dead, dead.

In the wake of a Pentagon Inspector General report that Lockheed Martin had been paid for “non-Ready-For-Issue” spare parts (in other words – stuff that didn’t meet contract requirements), Rep. Cohen (D-TN) offered an amendment telling the Pentagon to seek the return of those payments. This is smart policy, already a part of the contract, and the right thing to do. This amendment was successful, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure it is in the version of the bill that goes to President Trump for his signature.

There were also amendments that fall under the category of improving Pentagon management that were accepted on the House floor:

  • Schrader (D-OR), Rooney (R-FL), and Welch’s (D-VT) amendment to require a report on the implementation of the recommendations of “Transforming Department of Defense’s Core Business Processes for Revolutionary Change.” This is something TCS has supported for several years.
  • Garret Graves’ (R-LA) amendment requiring a report on reducing the costs of operating the military commissaries and exchanges by $2 billion over five years is an excellent start to managing the costs of this program.
  • Fitzpatrick’s (R-PA) amendment telling the Pentagon that they should coordinate annual research requests across all military services and offices. If it’s included in the final bill, and if used correctly by the Secretary of Defense, this would be an excellent way to guard against wasteful spending on duplicative projects.

Of course, it isn’t all good news.  In the category of you can’t make it up: the amendment offered by Reps. Brindisi (D-NY) and McKinley’s (R-WV) to supposedly strengthen national security by applying “Buy American” provisions to flatware and tableware (e.g forks and plates). No surprise that Mr. Brindisi represents a district with a flatware manufacturer and Mr. McKinley one with a major pottery. It’s not like either is a booming domestic industry, so these are – in effect – backdoor earmarks for their constituents. The House rejected similar amendments twice before in the face of opposition of then-Chairman on the House Armed Services Committee (now senior Republican), Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX). Although he pointed out this year, “I have yet to hear a national security justification to dictate where DoD buys its knives and forks and spoons and plates…adding this mandate will hurt our troops.” It was not enough.

Several like-minded taxpayer groups joined our opposition to this national security side dish of parochialism. But it unfortunately prevailed.

So that’s a wrap on our work on the House version of this year’s NDAA. Next up: the Senate.  We’ll keep you informed.

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