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Disappearing Defense Funds

Disappearing Defense Funds

21st September 2011 - The Hill

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee fully funded the Obama administration’s $407 million request to develop what some are sarcastically calling “Might Eventually Almost Do Something” (MEADS), a program the Department of Defense has no intention of buying. The other three defense committees--the House Armed Services, Defense Appropriations and the Senate Armed Services-- already eliminated funding for it, or shrunk its budget. On Wednesday Senator McCain addressed the full Senate, rebuking the Appropriations Committee for once again funding programs the it explicitly did not authorize—like the MEADS program, whose real name is the Medium Extended Air Defense System.

MEADS is a multinational program still in development between the US, Italy, and Germany, although the US pays for nearly 60 percent of the program. It has had major technical set-backs and cost-overruns.  The system it was meant to replace, the Patriot anti-missile system, could be improved to do what MEADS has failed to do.  Four NATO countries and seven other U.S. allies already deploy the Patriot system. These 11 allies shoulder 60 percent of the cost to sustain the system.

The Appropriations Committee defends its decision to support the administration’s request by arguing the US will incur termination fees if it fails to finish development, and by at least finishing the program the US could "harvest" technologies for other applications.  But according to Congressional staff I've recently spoken with, the Army has no idea how much termination costs would be, if anything. Also, the Army doesn't even know what, if any, technologies could be harvested for other programs.

The Super Committee Congress created this month is under the gun to find $1.5 trillion in cuts in the federal budget by November 23.  If the members don’t reach an agreement by the deadline, they will trigger deep cuts across the entire federal budget, half of which will come from defense. This would be in addition to the $350 billion in cuts the Pentagon is already planning. If this occurs, we’re talking about $1 trillion in defense cuts. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, this “would have devastating effects on our national defense.” The Defense Budget is neither the source nor the solution to the U.S. fiscal disaster but if the Super Committee can’t come to a bi-partisan and bi-cameral consensus on where the cuts should come from, the gridlock will decimate the defense budget. The Appropriations Committee’s decision to fund MEADS does not inspire confidence in the Congress’ ability to sort out waste and come to a consensus.

Senators should weigh in when the full Senate takes up the appropriations bill, or when the differences in the House and Senate bills are negotiated in Conference. They should insist the Senate direct the $407 million from MEADS to more effective programs. Administration officials in the State Department and Pentagon should then turn to our allies and make the case that the program needs to end, because in these trying economic times, the American people are out of money and patience for funding other countries’ programs when there is no benefit to the US.

Rebeccah Heinrichs is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former manager of the House of Representatives Bi-Partisan Missile Defense Caucus


congress, defense-department, missile-defense, obama, us-economy