Watchdogs Urge Defense Chief Austin to Curtail Budget Wish Lists

  • Military services routinely seek additional arms spending
  • Makes for ‘complex and unwieldy’ budgeting, groups say

Fifteen organizations are pressing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to slash the military services’ wish lists that alert lawmakers to what the president excluded in the annual budget request sent to Congress.

The military services, combatant commands, and other Defense Department components each year submit to congressional defense committees their unfunded requirements, which often sway decisions on defense policy and spending legislation. These lists are required by law, and the practice has wide congressional support.

“These lists, though currently required by statute, negatively impact prioritization efforts throughout the military and make the congressional budget process unnecessarily complex and unwieldy,” the organizations wrote to Austin on Monday.

The Pentagon didn’t have an immediate comment on the letter.

The 15 signatories said they were all groups that favor accountability in government, and include the National Taxpayers Union, Project on Government Oversight, R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Common Defense, and FreedomWorks.

“We hope that under your leadership the department focuses on being responsible stewards of the significant funds they already receive, rather than jockeying for more taxpayer dollars and undermining the budget process,” the organizations wrote.

For example, the military sent lawmakers at least $17 billion worth of unfunded requirements for this fiscal year. Topping the Navy’s list was $2.7 billion for a second Virginia-class submarine, made by General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., which Congress ended up funding.

Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images
An F-35 fighter plane flies over the White House on June 12, 2019.

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is also a regular on the lists for several services, including the Air Force. Congress routinely boosts the number of F-35s in the defense bills, with 17 more aircraft funded for this year than the Pentagon had requested. Even the nascent Space Force listed $1 billion in additional priorities last year.

The organizations are urging Austin to emulate former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who cut the unfunded requirements lists by about 90% one year to the next. Gates’s actions demonstrate that “fundamental reform to this inefficient and unwieldy practice is possible—while still complying with current law.”

The Biden administration said that it plans to request $715 billion for the Pentagon’s budget in fiscal 2022. The full budget request likely will be released in May. The unfunded requirements list would follow shortly after.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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