The Army JLENS blimp fiasco, the $43 million Afghan gas station, the fumbling F-35 program, the NDAA veto, government shutdowns, the Syrian train-and-equip program, etc. These are just some of the issues that have come up in recent times that highlight the desperate need to work towards defense reform in the United States. And the work should start now.
On February 2nd, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) Defense budget request to the tune of a $534.3 billion base Pentagon budget plus an additional $50.9 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO).
After more than a few budget antics this weekend, both the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 3979) and FY15 Omnibus (H.R. 83), or “Cromnibus,” have cleared Congress.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees completed behind-the-scenes negotiations on the NDAA on December 1st then moved on to a vote in the House on December 5th, where the bill passed 300-119. On December 12th, the Senate lent its approval to the bill by a vote of 89-11, marking the 53rd consecutive NDAA approved by Congress.
FRONT & CENTER
An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
November 8 – November 22 WHAT’S NEW:
The Disillusioned Babysitters of America’s Nuclear Weapons
Last Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a lengthy press conference in which he pledged to invest billions to repair a U.S. nuclear enterprise that’s falling apart at the seams. Hagel’s comments were made seemingly in response to in-depth assessments of the nuclear silos and personnel from Mother Jones and New York Magazine, both of which offered the same conclusions: the U.S. nuclear fleet is out of date, and so is its mission. Angela Canterbury, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, articulates it well in the Wall Street Journal, “They’re going to throw billions of dollars at this problem, which is like saying they’re going to throw billions of dollars at dial-up Internet.”
Closing in on a Deal
With just a few days until the November 24 deadline to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, Policy Director Laicie Heeley has been busy keeping the media fully apprised of the latest on the negotiations, and of course her expert analysis. Watch her interview on Voice of America, and read her quotes in the International Business Times and Bloomberg News.
Recognizing Our Allies on Capitol Hill
On the evening of November 18th, the nuclear security community gathered to recognize our Congressional allies in support of more sensible nuclear weapons policies. On behalf of the Center and the Council, executive director Angela Canterbury presented the award to Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who co-founded and chairs Congress’s Nuclear Security Working Group. Other award recipients included Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
The Highest Priority Mission?
Watch Senior Fellow John Isaacs give his analysis of Hagel’s press conference and the Pentagon’s plans to overhaul the nuclear weapons enterprise on HuffPost Live. [11/18]
Laws are made for a reason–but then sometimes the government finds a way to circumvent them: the Overseas Contingency Operations account is a poster child. Angela Canterbury and Sarah Tully take to the blog to show that, with Obama’s recent request, the Pentagon and Congress are poised to use this off-budget account as a slush fund and to evade the budget caps yet again. Is this necessary? Read more here. [11/21]
Making Good on Prague Promises
This year, Obama has gone under fire for continuing to stumble in the wrong direction over U.S. nuclear weapons policies. Last week, however, the Obama Administration finally made some forward progress by announcing the U.S. will attend the 2014 Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in early December. Read our press release and learn more on our blog. [11/10]
Thawing the Ice
Ever since Putin’s hasty seizure of the Crimea last spring, nearly two decades of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation has deteriorated to an icy standstill, with diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic folding their arms and turning their backs on nuclear security teamwork. Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn provides analysis from various experts who all agree that new approaches are needed to bridge the impasse. [11/17]
Thawing the Ice
Along the same vein, this week marked the twenty-year anniversary of Project Sapphire, a major diplomatic success in removing and down-blending loose nuclear material from the former Soviet Union in 1994. Programs intern Sarah Tully writes, “Fissile material across the country was stored in rooms and warehouses easy for an amateur burglar to crack…with a Civil War padlock…The threat of nuclear war isn’t our greatest danger, loose nuclear material and weapons are.” The point bears repeating: diplomacy with Russia is our best chance of keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands. [11/21
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.
The Pentagon is making the case for an overhaul of its fleet, and according to Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall, the nuclear enterprise is at the front of the line. That is, if they can just figure out how to pay for it.
At the Air Force Association’s annual conference this week, Kendall delivered remarks that had been prepared by the Secretary of Defense, who had been pulled away at the last minute. The speech referred to the nuclear enterprise as, “the very foundation of U.S. national security.”
Driving the point home, Kendall repeated twice, “No capability we maintain is more important than our nuclear deterrent.”
Of course, Kendall and Hagel have reason to want to reassure the Air Force that nukes are a top priority, but Kendall’s speech leaves little room for interpretation.
Know that what you do every day is foundational to America’s national security and the top priority of the Department of Defense – the top priority of the Department of Defense.
Secretary Hagel wants you and our entire military to know that comes from him personally.
But paying for those upgrades will take more than reassurance. And there’s the rub. The Pentagon simply does not have enough resources to pay for its entire wish list of upgrades, both nuclear and conventional. And, perhaps surprisingly, Kendall acknowledges that fact, telling reporters that:
There’s been some conversation about that, but at the end of the day we have to find money to pay for these things one way or another, right? So changing the accounting system doesn’t really change that fundamental requirement. We still need the money and it has to come from somewhere.
Kendall’s bout of honesty comes on the heels of some speculation that world events might allow for some wiggle room in the DOD’s budget – or at least OCO. But the acknowledgement of the budget challenges to come is significant nonetheless.
At a time when the Air Force is in need of a multitude of updates more relevant to the current threat environment, the issue is likely much greater than Kendall lets on. The true cost of focusing myopically on the nuclear enterprise is that it will leave other programs to starve in its wake.
Inside Defense reports from behind a paywall that the Defense Department will deliver its “migration guidance,” setting out a plan for the services to begin to move war funds back into the base budget, in the fall.
Having missed a July deadline promised to the Government Accountability Office, a DOD spokesman said “This will be a multiyear process that will be refined as [the] Department gets a clearer picture of enduring missions for the theater, as well as the criteria and scope of the future overseas contingency operations budgets.”
The Pentagon plans to have the guidance to the services in time for crafting of the FY16 budget request.
DOD’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget comes in at $58.6 billion for FY15, $26.7 billion less than enacted the previous year. But the fund has received increased criticism in Congress as U.S. involvement in the wars has drawn down, largely because it allows the Pentagon to work around the budget caps set forth in the Budget Control Act.
In response to the administration’s OCO request, which came to Congress late, on June 26, Rep. Adam Smith noted that, “Sequestration doesn’t make any sense. However, none of those other areas of our government have an OCO. … The justification for that spending is something that Congress is going to need to hear.”
Rep. Tammy Duckworth went a step further saying that, “It seems this is just becoming another slush fund … without accountability.”
But recent developments in Iraq might throw a wrench into efforts to draw the money down, as the administration continues to pull from the budget for operations overseas. The White House argues that the fund, particularly a new portion aimed at counterterrorism operations, is important to have in case of emergency.
But some members of Congress disagree. “There’s always going to be something unanticipated in the defense world,” Smith said in the same interview. “You try and budget within the parameters of that, and not have a separate budget for ‘if something comes up.’”
For Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, which begins on October 1, 2011, the Obama Administration has requested a base budget of $553 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD). This is $13 billion below the Pentagon’s Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) estimate, released last year, but represents about 3 percent in real growth over the funding the department would receive for FY 2011 under the current continuing resolution, which expires on March 4.
In addition, the Administration has requested $117.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a 26 percent decrease from last year’s request of $159.4 billion and represents the administration’s commitment to reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan and place more strict rules on what can and cannot be included in the war spending request. In the past, additional funding has been made available through emergency supplemental appropriations, when needed. This remains a possibility for FY 2012. This brings the FY 2012 defense budget request to a total of $670.6 billion.
These numbers do not include nuclear weapons related spending in the Department of Energy (DoE) or other defense related funding.
In addition to an initial $670 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Administration has requested $18 billion for nuclear weapons activities at Department of Energy and $7 billion for additional non-Pentagon defense related activities. This brings total non-Pentagon defense related spending (053/054) to $25 billion, an increase of about $200 million over FY 2011.