Politics wreak havoc on DOD's funding priorities
Lawmakers delve into the economy and politics, while DOD looks out for frontline warfighters
The National Defense Authorization Act signed Oct. 28 by President Barack Obama for fiscal 2010 represents a notable, though modest, step forward in the military’s shift from Cold War era weapons programs to the kinds of information systems increasingly needed for counterinsurgency forces.
At the same time, the $680 billion spending bill reflects how difficult it is to work with Congress to redirect funding based on priorities outlined by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other military officials.
The tensions between Congress and the Defense Department have a long and storied history.
The politics of war aside, the defense establishment, with its history of costly, over-budget programs and perpetual need for acquisition reforms, hasn’t been a model of efficiency when it comes to investing taxpayer dollars. That was reaffirmed in a recent Government Accountability Office study, which looked into 96 major defense acquisition programs from last year. It found cumulative cost growth, including overruns, totaling $296 billion. Although many increases were legitimate, those billions could have been better spent.
However, this year’s appropriations bill, perhaps more than usual, seemed to pit the military’s need to better provision its warfighters against the pressures faced by lawmakers to protect jobs.
Gates, looking to reallocate funds, succeeded in capping production of the Air Force’s costly Lockheed Martin F-22 stealth fighter and eliminating half a dozen weapons systems worth an estimated $100 billion during the coming decades. But Congress still insisted on funding procurements the Pentagon said it doesn’t want or doesn’t need, such as an order for 10 Boeing C-17 cargo planes at a cost of $250 million apiece. The reason isn’t surprising: C-17 production lines employ 30,000 workers across 43 states.
However, those political investments aren’t much help to the men and women on the battlefront who continue to need more reliable, lightweight, ad hoc communications and intelligence systems to fight 21st-century enemies.
The reality remains that the military faces a serious dilemma: Without a surge in funding, the military’s aging systems will become increasingly outmoded as technology advances and commercial practices continue to march forward. With new demands in cyberspace and the need for up-to-date systems, the situation grows only more urgent.
That’s not to say that DOD shouldn’t be held closely accountable for how well it acquires and develops enhanced networking communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems — not to mention other programs.
But with programs such as the Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network, among many others, in the balance and sources of funding still uncertain, it’s a sad state of affairs that the military will be getting unneeded cargo planes instead.
Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of Defense Systems from January 2009 to August 2010. He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.