Panel says thanks but no thanks to extra F-35s, Apaches

Last week House Defense Appropriations rejected part of a reprogramming request from the Pentagon that would have funded, among other things, 8 additional F-35s and 21 Apache helicopters using money from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

In a letter to Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord, Panel chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen cites policy guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that expressly excludes non-war-related funding from the acceptable uses of OCO funds.

The Committee is concerned that OCO appropriations, which are provided by Congress specifically for ongoing combat operations and related efforts,” says Frelinghuysen, “are being utilized in this reprogramming to backfill budgetary shortfalls in acquisition programs that have only tenuous links to the fight in Afghanistan and other current operations.”

The letter specifically cites reprogramming requests for the F-35 and Apache helicopter, which amount to ~$1.5 billion, 80 percent of the Pentagon’s requested increase, as problematic.

Of course, budget watchdogs have lamented the unrelated use of OCO funds for years, but this is the first time a congressional committee has rejected such a high profile proposal. And the rejection is significant, since reprogramming requests must be approved by all 4 congressional defense authorizing and appropriating panels.

And hey, since the Pentagon is essentially recognizing that it has some extra money lying around by requesting the funding shift at all, one would think that the rejection would result in some savings, right? Not so much.

Barring congressional action to the contrary, the funds will return to their original allocations awaiting what is likely to be a new request.

A Pentagon spokesperson said Monday that officials will continue “to work with Congress to finalize our reprogramming request.”

Because surely the Pentagon can find something to spend all that money on.