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Hoof Steps in the Night: Anonymous defense spending earmarks May 17, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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by Matt Leatherman and Mariah Quinn

Citizens Against Government Waste recently issued its FY10 summary of earmark abuses, called the Pig Book.  Remarkably, $6 billion of the $6.5 billion in anonymous earmarks were made within the defense appropriation.  And with the war supplemental pending, more surely is on the way.

Congressional rules require members to disclose all earmarks online.  Rules, though, were made to be broken.  Garden-variety violators – those that remain anonymous because of the weirdness or embarrassment of their spending – are less remarkable because they have no greater meaning.  The member requesting $1.8M for food allergy research in the defense bill provides a great example.  Yet two other types connect far more significantly to planning and strategy.

Wilbur goes to the ball

House Republicans profiled their fiscal responsibility by pledging to offer no earmarks for the entire FY2011 budget cycle.  Far less PR was done for the caveat memo circulated by the House Armed Services Committee Minority staff.  In it, HASC Republicans determined that “committee level national security policy decisions” did not constitute earmarks and, as a consequence, can continue.

Two particular committee level national security policy decisions were cited as examples: procurement of additional C-17 cargo jets and development of an alternative second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  The Pentagon has very prominently rejected these purchases, and excluded them from its strategy and recent budgets – hence the ‘need’ for earmarks.

Taken together, earmarks for just these two purchases ($2.97 billion) totaled 49% of the anonymous requests in the defense appropriation, and 29% of all defense requests.  This lays to rest any ambiguity about the meaning of House Republican’s earmark ban as it pertains to defense.  “Committee level national security decisions” may accessorize that pig for a masquerade ball, but behind that mask is still an undisciplined mass of pork.

When pigs drive (and sail)

House Republicans certainly aren’t the only ones leaving unclaimed BBQ stains on the defense bill, though.  Indeed, the Pentagon’s clumsy fingerprints are strikingly visible.

Foremost among them is an $825 million plus-up for the coveted Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP).  Replacing DOD’s jury-rigged ‘up-armored’ Humvees, the MRAP is seeing extensive service in Iraq and Afghanistan and, consequently, is being wedged anywhere in the budget it will fit.  MRAP purchases belong in the overseas contingency operations title but have featured significantly in emergency supplemental spending, and apparently now in earmarks as well.

Earmarked spending for the DDG-51 program of Arleigh Burke class destroyers also reflects needs that DOD should have foreseen but didn’t.  Last December the Navy decided to cancel the CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser and instead procure more advanced DDG-51s.  Until then, the defense appropriators hewed to the administration request of $329 million for advance procurement funding for two DDG-51s.  Yet a $579 million figure, $250 million over the request, emerged from the appropriation conference following the Navy’s decision.

Thus, while House Republicans are compromising strategy simply to bring the pork home, the Pentagon finds itself stuck with budgeting through earmarks having failed to plan ahead.

FY10 War supplemental is serving up seconds

CAGW’s Pig Book covers the already-enacted FY10 budget, but undisciplined earmark spending certainly is not about to end.  In fact, the next round is coming right up as defense appropriators expect to pass the war supplemental bill within the month.  Anonymity is less likely to be a problem this time around, though.  Last year, for instance, over 99% of the $493 million in earmarks weighing the bill down was proudly claimed by Senate appropriator Thad Cochrane (R-MS).

Supplemental spending carries a strong risk of fiscal indiscipline, often representing – like the MRAPs and DDG-51s – issues that could and should have been foreseen.  Earmarking is even simpler – it is the pinnacle of indiscipline, as the shame implied by common preferences for anonymity indicate.  By earmarking the war supplemental, that indiscipline just is compounded.  Regrettably, as the bill moves forward this month, hardly anything else can be expected.

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Comments»

1. Marty Graham - July 25, 2010

“House Republicans certainly aren’t the only ones leaving unclaimed BBQ stains on the defense bill, though. Indeed, the Pentagon’s clumsy fingerprints are strikingly visible” I beleive its erroneous to try and place blame for earmarks on DoD officials. The Department of Defense is only an obligation authority. They do not appropriate nor author (or assist in authoring) any bills. As a former Program Analyst at HQDA, I’ve seen firsthand how the process works, and we have to justify and account for every dollar requested as well as prioritize program spending within DoD and furhter down at HQDA. The author seems to suggest DoD writes its own checks and bills the Congress, but this could not be farther from the truth. In the MRAP example, the author refers to $825M in earmarks, overseas contingency (OCO) funding, and supplemental funding. Every dollar requested by Army was through OCO (which is the same as supplemental funds; they just gave it a new name). The Army and DoD have absolutely no interest or reason to request money through earmarks, especially since we are being beat about the head and shoulders to create a base budget that will support what we have been requesting as base plus OCO.
-MAJ Marty Graham, ILE Student, Ft Belvoir VA
“The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.”

2. Matthew Leatherman - July 26, 2010

MAJ Graham is correct about the budgetary procedure in statute. DOD is an obligation authority that has no statutory avenues to request appropriations outside the February budget submission.

Statute, however, is where the conversation begins, not where it ends, and it is relatively common for federal departments to interject their budgetary preferences outside the standard request process. This includes DOD. The most overt and institutional way in which this happens is through the “unfunded requirements” exchange that coincides with the budget submission. For more information on this process, see the March 15 post titled “Gates battles nominal requirements.”


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