May 29, 2012
article originally appeared in TIME's Battleland.
The House Armed
Services Committee (HASC) and the Defense Subcommittee of the House
Appropriations Committee (sometimes called the HAC-D) have reported their
separate defense bills to the House of Representatives (both bills purport to
address both spending and policy). The House has already debated and passed the
HASC's "National Defense Authorization Act" (NDAA); it will soon debate the
defense appropriations bill. Let'scheck
out what they’ve drafted and try to figure out which panel is the House’s
reigning Pentagon pork king.
The press has covered both bills with
multiple daily articles; the House debate, while truncated, got into all sorts
of nuts and bolts, including amendments on labor practices in DOD contracting,
military depot policy, and protection of sea otters in navy exercise areas,
among many other things. In all, there were 141 amendments allowed for debate.
That level of legislative and journalistic activity would suggest that the bill
and its accompanying “committee report” were thoroughly scrubbed to make sure
there were no slimy invertebrates hiding under rocks in the depths of the bill
or its report.
Think no such thing.
The sea otters and other
minutia addressed in amendments, for example, reflect the energy and
thoroughness of lobbyists, not of congressional staff or others. Otherwise, some
particularly odious elements of the HASC bill would hopefully have been
challenged by one of the very few existing guardians of ethics and governance in
the House. Had they or their staffs combed thoroughly through the bill and
report they would have uncovered and, I hope, exposed that everlasting object of
interest by Members of Congress: pork.
Surely, that’s impossible. Even if
reluctantly, Congress reformed itself on pork. Right? Indeed, it says so right
here on page 530:
If you think that Congress has rid itself of all
its mechanisms to push pork, you don’t understand Congress. In going over the
two committee’s reports, which are not exactly user-friendly documents, I found
what looks to me like a pork slush fund in the HASC bill. I should know, as a
congressional staffer over three decades I pushed more than my share of pork for
the senators I worked for (from both parties).
At the end of my
congressional careerwhile working for Senator Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., at both
the Senate Budget Committee and the SAC-DI pushed earmarks for one of Capitol
Hill’s uber porkers. Domenici was known, and loved, in New Mexico as
“Saint Pete” for his singular success in bringing home
tons of bacon, year after year, in every way imaginable.
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HASC and HAC-D reports contain sections addressing spending for “operation and
maintenance” (O&M). This spending is generally known to be for training,
facilities upkeep, military exercises, repair and maintenance, and morethe
essential spending that keeps our military going and competent. Hardly a place
for pork, one would thinkunless you know Congress.
I got suspicious when
I found a lot of entries in the tables for O&M spending in the HASC report
labeled “Restoration & Modernization of Facilities.” There were dollar
amounts sprinkled through the O&M table, many of them large, added for each
military service and the Reserves and National Guards, but there was no
explanation what the money
was really for. The explanatory material in the text didn’t explain diddley,
except for one vague assertion that there was a “substantial increase for
facility restoration and modernization” for the Air Force.
nothing even at that level of vagueness for any of the other services, but I did
find explanations for other adds in the O&M money tables for other things,
like keeping aircraft in the inventory that the Obama administration wants to
retire. In short, the money being added for “Restoration & Modernization of
Facilities” was being added without any meaningful guidance, none
Don’t bother thinking long and hard where that guidance might
actually be coming from.
This money has the distinct odor of being a
slush fund not for the bureaucrats but for Members of Congress. When the
legislation is signed into law, DOD will get some letters and phone calls. Fort
Huachuca needs a new gate; Camp Pendleton’s Marine Memorial Golf Course needs
alteration; the commanding officer’s house needs a porch redo at Langley Air
Force Base: these hypothetical examples are the sorts of things that military
base commanders lobby Congress to fix; they do it out of the usual budget chain
of command, where impertinent questionslike “why?”don’t get asked.
Members of the HASCat least the ones who know about the slush fundprobably
already have a list; when the bill is law and the money is available for use,
the letters and phone calls will start coming in at the Pentagon’s congressional
liaison offices. This entire gambit is very reminiscent of a slushy pork fund
the HASC set up last year for private enterprise initiatives in R&D
spendingexcept that this new one is buried in the bill’s report.
dollar amounts are not peanuts. The Army will be getting $193.6 million for
unspecified “Restoration and Modernization of Facilities.” The Air Force: $215.5
million; the Army National Guard $49.4 million. In all, I count $594.7 million
in the HASC report (details here).
report from the House Appropriations Committee contains an interesting
difference. The HAC-D spending tables for O&M money contain the same sort of
title for this item (“Facilities Sustainment, Restoration, &
Modernization”), but the text adds an actual explanation. It says that in the
previous year, the Committee expressed its concern over just how real the
Pentagon’s proposed efficiency savings would be:
While unspecific, this guidance does obtusely but
significantly limit how the appropriators want to see this money spent. What the
HASC set up as a general pot of money with no instruction, the HAC-D had
guidance for. Nor was it a question of economy of words; the HASC report is a
mind-bending 583 pages, in two volumes; the HAC-D report is a somewhat
less-numbing 340 pages.
It is depressing indeed: the House Appropriations
Committeerenowned for its porkinessis significantly less aggressive about
setting up a slush fund for itself than the HASC.
Of course, I could have
this wrong. The members of the House Appropriations Committee could easily turn
out to be every bit as aggressive about instructing DOD on how to spend this
extra facility-maintenance money as the HASC members. There may even be reason
to think so; the HAC-D proposes much more money for the purpose. The HAC-D total
for this category comes to $722.3 million: a fulsome $127.6 million more than
the HASC. Perhaps, the Members and staff at the HAC-D have a few extra loose
ends they want to tighten up at those facilities.
Moreover, there appears
to be at least one other slush fundagain in the HASC report. On page 278, it
sets up a $500 million equipment fund for the National Guard, in addition to the
$3.1 billion already requested by the president for National Guard
I know this game and have played it many times: during the
executive branch’s budget process, the National Guard adjutants general in the
states lobby the Defense Department for new equipment purchases, with the able
assistance of the manufacturers.
When that process is over, they lobby
Capitol Hill for whatever additional equipment that didn’t make it through the
executive branch process. Each year, in Senator Domenici’s office, we would get
letters from the governor and his National Guard adjutant general about more
Patriot missiles, upgraded F-16s and a lot else.
Not coincidently, these
letters were usually followed up by a visit from the manufacturers’ lobbyists.
The process was as porky as it gets. The HASC’s $500 million slush fund for the
National Guard is a part of all that. The letters and phone calls to DOD on just
how to spend that money will be pouring in from Members of Congress.
focused mostly on the O&M sections of the HASC and HAC-D reports. There are
probably other slush funds buried in the combined 923 pages of those documents;
they need a thorough scrubbing by someone other than myself to capture all the
creatures hiding under rocks in these two bills. The same goes for the Senate
Armed Services Committee (SASC), which is also finishing up its version of the
2013 defense authorization. Always the paragon of pomposity for pretending
solicitude for the soldier while slathering itself with pork, the SASC’s reports
always make amusing reading.
So who is this year’s king of defense pork
on the Hill? The HASC would seem to have a palpable edge. It’s always a
close-run thing, and there are hot contenders to be checked out, but for now
they must, by a snout, get the nod.
Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director
of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information at
the Project On Government Oversight.
Posted at 06:10 PM in Defense, Earmarks, Straus, Waste | Permalink
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