Unfunded (Low) Priority Lists

Weekly WastebasketUnfunded (Low) Priority Lists$686 billion is not enough for the Pentagon. It would like more.

National Security,  | Quick Take
Mar 2, 2018  | 4 min read | Print Article

Just a few weeks after Pentagon spending received a big boost in the President’s budget, services are crying poor and whining to Congress about billions of dollars worth of items that were left out.

Let’s look at the facts. The Pentagon got $686 billion in the budget request. That’s tens of billions more than in they are getting for fiscal year 2018 which was tens of billions more than in FY2017. Yet, the Navy and now the Air Force are running to Congress to get even more stuff. You can be sure Army and the Marines won’t be too far behind.

While completely outrageous, the lists are not altogether surprising or new. Except during the tenure of Defense Secretary Gates – who banned these type of requests – the so called “Unfunded Priorities List” have been around decades. We’re not buying it, but one could argue the need for this type of list when spending limits were slowing the growth of defense spending. But not now.

These items can’t be too much of a priority if there wasn’t room for them in the Navy’s $194 billion or the Air Force’s $156 billion request. We guess that is why the Navy described their pleadings as “unfunded contributors to naval power.”

The Navy seeks an additional $1.5 billion. Breaking that down a bit, that includes $250 million for research and development – well the budget request already has $18.8 billion for R&D. Navy procurement got $58.5 billion in the budget request, but Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Richardson is asking for another $1 billion. If these are such high priority items, couldn’t the Navy have considered cutting funding for the F-35 or the Littoral Combat Ship?

Not to be outdone, the Air Force list of unfunded needs for Fiscal Year 2019 comes to $1.8 billion. As we said before – if a program couldn’t be fit into a $156 billion sack, it might not be such a priority. Unlike the Navy, the Air Force devotes the largest portion of its request, $800 million, for a “Classified Program.” That’s convenient since they don’t have to describe what their super-secret wish list is to Santa Congress. It also asks for $440 million in military construction projects. Let’s see, can we think of any places where the Air Force could find a couple of billion dollars by reducing current wasteful spending? F-35 anyone?

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Secretary Gates had it right. The services had their opportunity to make the case for these programs in the months of budget development. What these lists do is give special interests and their boosters in Congress an opportunity to argue that these items are really important and should be funded. But remember, while the Pentagon got a big boost, there is still a cap on the total amount of cash they receive. If anything gets funded from these wish lists, it will come at the expense of some other item that actually was important enough to be included in the budget request. And remember this is the administration’s budget request, not a Congressional document. So the Pentagon wrote the underlying budget.

The bottom line is, in an overall budget request of $686 billion, the Pentagon shouldn’t be allowing the military services to poor mouth to the Hill about a lack of resources for supposed priorities. This practice, recently dolled up with statutory language (10 U.S.C. 222(a)) should be ended.