Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Opinion: Huge waste in $605 billion U.S. Defense bill heading for final vote

Flawed F-35 fighter, next generation nuke subs and new weapons cited.

Charles Tiefer, Forbes
4 October 2015

The $604 billion defense spending bill now nears passage with many billions of dollars in rampant defense waste scattered throughout. Aircraft waste on the pricey but flawed F-35, Navy waste on a next generation of nuclear submarines, and systemic waste in unchecked new weapons, all have found their costly places aboard the defense authorization bill.
Last week the House rushed this bill from conference to passage, and now it awaits a cloture vote in the Senate. There is still a major battle ahead about the overall issue of the Congressional budget limits, but virtually no resistance, it seems, to the many billions in waste on specific matters.
Starting with the aircraft, a previous piece of mine noted that the Lockheed F-35 fighter is high on the list of cost-overruns, helping Lockheed reach its corporate level of "cost overruns on development programs" of 37 percent (Bloomberg ). Yet this defense spending bill will not only commit to spend billions on the Defense Department's relatively balanced request of F-35 purchases, but will go far beyond that to add a "wish list" of much more.
Specifically, USNI News reports that "The bill maintained the support that both [House and Senate] committees had for six additional F-35B Joint Strike Fighters for the Marine Corps," on top of the Administration's already generous nine; and "funding for 12 additional FA - 18E-F Super Hornets for the Navy." Basically, the armed forces, and Lockheed, first received billions from the Administration budget. Then the armed forces and Lockheed did an end-run around the Administration, took a "wish list" to Congress, and got wasteful billions, by definition lower-priority, in this bill. The F-35s are made in Texas, not far from the district of the House Committee Chair, Rep. Thornberry (R-TX).
For the Navy, there is the opening wedge toward an entire new class of nuclear submarines - a $90 billion plus program, a key piece of the overall strategic nuclear trial project of $1 trillion. Even the Navy knows this program is unsustainable. The Navy was caught illegally lobbing for the subs.
This bill facilitates funding this new generation of submarines in a separate big-dollar fund outside the Navy's regular budget, named the "National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund." A piece by William D. Hartung, a noted defense waste-hunter, exposed this wasteful charade. As he said, "If the new submarine account is funded, it will simply drain resources, from other, more urgent priorities like military readiness."
What's more, he noted, an envious Air Force will seek to set up a similar fund for its nuclear bombers and missiles, also off the books. This doesn't make these one penny less costly to the taxpayer. It just conceals the enormous scale of costs. Perhaps Congressional Republicans, since they like to conceal hidden funds so much, should set up a "Veterans Administration Illness Deterrence Fund" or a "Food Stamp Hunger Deterrence Fund" to hide these, too.
Senator McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, has wanted to take away development control from the somewhat objective and even skeptical civilian Defense Department, which has a relatively serious testing office. Instead, Senator McCain, and the defense contractors, wanted to give the authority to the individual armed services, namely, the Air Force and the Navy. The Administration vigorously fought this. It noted that the individual armed services are wildly overenthusiastic in their reviews of their own pet weapons, and do not control the rampant risks of cost overruns. Federal News Radio has an interview on this subject.
Unfortunately, in conference McCain and the defense contractors won. Sections 802, 823, and 824 gut the authority of the Defense Department to control the rush to go ahead with wasteful new pet weapons development. These sections water down the scrutiny of new weapons before they can go on to the next costly stage - the "Milestone Decision Authority" - by turning it over to the individual armed services.
Think of the disastrous weapons development of the past. The Future Combat Systems of the Bush Administration wasted tens of billions on unrealistic fantasies of futuristic land warfare. A few months ago, the GAO discussed the disastrous history of development of a next-stage GPS system, which already has $1.2 billion in overruns.
This is just an introduction to a bill that is shot through with waste.

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