Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Opinion: Reckless overspending on dicey, billion-dollar weapons moves ahead in U.S. Congress

Charles Tiefer, Forbes
7 June 2015

The House defense appropriation bill and the Senate defense authorization bill bills rush to the floor of the House and Senate in coming weeks, laden with huge wasteful weapons purchases.  As described in my previous columns, Congressional Republicans fund defense with an extra low-visibility $96 billion fund.  Don’t take my word for the veritable orgy of squandering.  Look at what the independent, non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) warns.
Let’s start small, with the Navy’s “little” $3 billion program for a carrier-launched drone.  This is known as UCLASS — “Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike.”   Well, hey, a carrier-launched drone makes sense, doesn’t it?  Very handy for socking it to Isis.  (Assuming that the low-tech ISIS has many targets to find, after bomber pounding, that cost as much as this $3 billion program.)
However, the GAO cautioned just last month that the Navy completely changed the drone mission, rendering obsolete the years of planning and research.  It started out as “mainly surveillance with limited strike” — reconnaissance —  but now it may be “mainly strike with limited surveillance” — attack.   So GAO warned that that the going ahead with obsolete old planning and research could make this one of those “problematic programs.”
Did the House defense authorization committee slow down?  No, in fact, they complained that, hasty as Defense is going, it is not reckless enough.  They want “the Secretary of Defense to expeditiously complete” the proposal for “funds for the air vehicle” — not merely developing the change-mission drone, but actually buying the completed drone itself — by August 31, 2015.”  Get ready, in GAO’s delicate term, for one of those “problematic programs,” meaning malfunctions and cost overruns.
But that’s just a modest program.  Big money in the defense spending bill goes to excess buys of the F-35 fighter.  The defense spending bill provides $8.4 billion for 65 next generation F-35 fighter aircraft, eight more than requested by the Pentagon.  Why would Congressional Republicans buy even more of these aircraft than the big-spending enthusiasts in the Defense Department?  As noted before, Congressional Republicans are not spending what they consider real dollars.  The $96 billion low-visibility fund, an “overseas contingency” fund meant for emerging wars, does not get scored, for budget purposes, toward current year budget figures.  Sure, it is the same Treasury spending, the same taxpayer outlays, and hence the same waste as in disbursements from regular “base” defense funds.  But it is not scored.  Spend away.
Still, it is all ready to buy — maybe — maybe not.  Well, maybe.  It actually has an incredible list of cost overruns and unsolved system problems.  That is material aplenty for a whole separate column.  Some sample comments by GAO on the F-35: “Less than 40 percent of those [manufacturing] processes are currently matured to best practice standards  In 2014, late software deliveries and fleet-wide groundings due to an engine fire delayed aircraft deliveries.  In addition, part shortages further delayed aircraft deliveries.”  Translation: the software, the manufacturing processes, the parts — not ready for prime time.  Some readers may recall — didn’t Chairman John McCain of the Senate defense committee question the F-35?  Yes, he did, but not lately.  A wing of F-35s is being based in his state of Arizona, which has pacified him.
Then, the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  The Pentagon has a trillion dollar program in mind to update the entire nuclear weapon delivery system — nuclear bombers, nuclear missiles, and of course nuclear subs.  And you thought the Cold War was over.  As Representative Garamendi dissented to the House defense bill, “Maintaining and
modernizing our nuclear arsenal is expected to cost over $1 trillion over the next 25-30 years.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that we may not be able to afford this. . . . .  China Russia, France, and the United Kingdom ware doing the same in response.”  This, too, provides material aplenty for a whole separate column.
For one of the components, the House committee report declares approvingly, “The Navy plans to procure 12 submarines to replace the 134 existing Ohio-class submarines, at an estimated total program cost of over $95.00 billion in fiscal year 2015 dollars.”  GAO was alarmed that the Navy plans on “multi-year contracting,” which means laying out the whole purchase of a pricey submarine at the start.  GAO warned “It is typically not used with lead ship construction because of the unknowns inherent in Navy lead ship construction.”  Translation: rampant cost overruns during the years of construction.  .  Naturally, the subs are built by Huntington Ingalls , with its Newport News shipyard.  .  The subcommittee chair is Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who comes, coincidentally, from the Hampton Roads area.  Combine this with there being virtually zero public awareness, let alone support, for this $1 trillion buy. The wise buyer would buy at just a deliberate speed.   But not Congress.
In short, as the defense spending bills rush to the House and Senate floor, the Congressional Republicans’ motto seems — spend first, pay — and worry — later.

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