Earlier this month, we took note of Rep. Austin Scott’s frustration with the uniformed leaders of the U.S. military who aren’t complaining loudly enough about the Obama Administration’s military budget proposals.
“I’m pretty frustrated with the DoD and I feel like some of the leadership at the DoD comes over here and they say: `Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. May we have another cut?’” the Georgia Republican and member of the armed services committee told Army generals April 16. “When you’re not on the cameras, please, please look at [the President’s budget proposal], because we can’t help you if the DoD’s going to come over here and say, `Yes, we want to take these cuts.’”
It happened again last week, when another GOP member of the armed services panel (makes you long for the days of the late Floyd Spence, R-S.C.) grumbled at the Army’s unwillingness to play in one of the most pernicious games devised by lawmakers and their Pentagon allies: the so-called “unfunded priorities list.”
We dub it “so-called” because – follow the logic here, solons – if it’s unfunded, it’s not a priority. But lawmakers like the lists because they get to wave them around at hearings and shout that Pentagon civilians and their White House overlords have refused to buy into programs that the gold-braid crowd contends should be funded priorities.
This way lies madness and penury, of course. But who cares if it involves something important to a lawmaker or his district?
Then-defense secretary Robert Gates pretty much ended the scam in 2009, as we reported at the time:
This year, however, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is determined to crack down on what are known inside the Pentagon as “unfunded priority lists” and on Capitol Hill — to make them more palatable to skeptical lawmakers — as unfunded “requirements” or “mandates.” Taxpayers who follow such arcane budget shenanigans call them “wish lists,” and for good reason — they’re basically lists of goodies that the Pentagon’s civilian leaders felt weren’t needed. Not only are they a waste of tens of billions of dollars, but funding such weapons outside normal channels leads to an unbalanced military force, jeopardizing the never-ending quest for the military services to fight wars jointly instead of engaging in internal budgetary guerrilla warfare with one another. And in going after them so directly, Gates is continuing his campaign to bring fundamental change to the Pentagon that will last beyond his tenure.
So did it stick?
That’s what makes this exchange between Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and Army General Ray Odierno, the chief of staff, last Thursday so interesting:
REP. FORBES: According to the HASC [House Armed Services] committee staff, the Administration has supported $778 billion of cuts to national defense prior to sequestration, even before sequestration….that $778 billion, which counts for the 106,000 soldiers and civilian positions that were going to be cut down, it would be fair to say, I think, that you support all those cuts. Is that not correct?
GEN. ODIERNO: That’s correct, Congressman.
REP. FORBES: And the Army, at least to my knowledge, submitted nothing to this committee for an unfunded requirements list. Why was that the case? Why not submit that list?
GEN. ODIERNO: Under last year’s budget, we did not submit an unfunded requirements list. As I reviewed it, I felt that none of them raised to the level that we should ask for additional requirements last year.
REP. FORBES: OK. And I hope you can just appreciate how some of us have a difficult time. The stress we’re talking about with the Army didn’t just pop up in the last few months. This has been over a series of years, yet we have these huge cuts and the Army basically saying this is OK and not giving us any of the unfunded requirements list.
“…none of them raised to the level that we should ask for additional requirements…”
are as bracing as Forbes’ words
“…Why not submit that list?…”
Score one for Gates, civilian control of the military, and the taxpayer. And a tip of Battleland’s helmet to General Odierno.