A forthcoming study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) serves as a reminder that the US must evaluate the worthiness of investing billions of dollars into its nuclear arsenal. The study addresses affordability and concludes that “U.S. nuclear forces are affordable because their projected costs account for a small percentage of the overall defense budget.”
The Pentagon, caught between a budget cap on defense spending and a long wish list of expensive weapons programs, will need to choose between what is nice to have and what is necessary and affordable for maintaining national security. There are many past examples of the Pentagon planning for a large number of weapons and then being forced to adjust its expectations and reduce its purchase of weapons systems due to rising costs and under-performance.
Sequestration, the budget mechanism that kicks in if and only if Congress does not budget to the caps set under the 2011 Budget Control Act, has been framed as the big bad wolf of Washington. But this frequent mischaracterization of sequestration as a vague, threatening entity neglects a key facet of budget construction: sequestration won’t kick in unless Congress fails to do its job.
This month, Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the bipartisan Audit the Pentagon Act of 2015, (H.R. 942) co-sponsored by Mike Burgess (R-Texas) and five others. It aims to do exactly what it says: audit the Pentagon. Why, you ask? Because unlike every other federal agency required by law to undergo an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) has never done so.
Last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released its biennial update to its High Risk List – a compilation of government programs that are identified as “high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.” Department of Defense weapon systems acquisition and Department of Energy contract management have both been on the GAO’s High Risk List for the last 25 years.
Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter’s confirmation hearing is set for the first week of February. Coinciding with Carter’s confirmation, on February 2, the president will send Congress his fiscal year 2016 budget request. One of Mr. Carter’s first tasks as Chuck Hagel’s replacement will be to defend the President’s FY 2016 budget request – a document on which Mr. Carter has presumably had little influence.
The Congressional Budget Office’s Report on the Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces has again undercut the tired myth that our current nuclear weapon plans are inexpensive. According to the report, the administration’s plan for modernizing the nuclear triad is expected to cost $348 billion over the next decade, an average of about $35 billion a year. But these costs reflect only the tip of the budgetary iceberg. Reports such as the National Defense Panel Review of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review and the Trillion Dollar Triad estimate the entire modernization plan will likely cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.