U.S. Troop Funds Diverted to Pet Projects

Daily News Article   —   Posted on October 19, 2009

NOTE: This article was first published in The Washington Times on October 15th.

(by Shaun Waterman, WashingtonTimes.com) – Senators diverted $2.6 billion in funds in a defense spending bill to pet projects largely at the expense of accounts that pay for fuel, ammunition and training for U.S. troops, including those fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an analysis.

Among the 778 such projects, known as earmarks, packed into the bill: $25 million for a new World War II museum at the University of New Orleans and $20 million to launch an educational institute named after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

While earmarks are hardly new in Washington, “in 30 years on Capitol Hill, I never saw Congress mangle the defense budget as badly as this year,” said Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate staffer who worked on defense funding and oversight for both Republicans and Democrats. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, an independent research organization.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, called the transfer of funds from Pentagon operations and maintenance “a disgrace.”

“The Senate is putting favorable headlines back home above our men and women fighting on the front lines,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Wheeler, who conducted the study, … discovered that senators added $2.6 billion in pet projects while spending $4 billion less than the administration requested for fiscal 2010, which began Oct. 1.

Mr. Wheeler said that senators took most of the cash for the projects from the “operations and maintenance” or O&M accounts.

“These are the accounts that pay for troop training, repairs, spares and supplies for vehicles, weapons, ships and planes, food and fuel,” Mr. Wheeler said. …..

The administration’s budget requested $156 billion for the regular O&M account and $81 billion for O&M for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill passed by the Senate cut $2.4 billion from the regular account and $655 million from the war O&M fund.

Senate appropriators insisted that the O&M accounts, despite the cuts, do not shortchange the troops.

“The operation and maintenance title is fully funded,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, said during the debate on the bill. “There is no shortage. … The committee is deeply concerned that the critical operational needs of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are met with the finest equipment available.”

Money for the Kennedy Institute was inserted by Mr. Inouye and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, and Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, sought the funding for the World War II museum.

Whitney Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said the earmark was “a worthy investment.”

“Sen. Kennedy served on the Armed Services Committee for 27 years, where he fought to deliver top-of-the-line body armor and armored Humvees to protect our troops and save lives. Educating Americans about these battles is a core mission for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, which showcases one senator’s ability to make a difference,” Mr. Smith wrote in an e-mail. “This funding will help the Edward M. Kennedy Institute become one the nation’s pre-eminent civic educational institutions, and Sen. Kerry is proud to have worked with Chairman Inouye to make it possible.”

Mrs. Landrieu said she was “proud to fight” for money for the World War II museum, which is not just a “monument to the brave men and women who served during World War II,” but also “a constant reminder to future generations about the tremendous sacrifice of millions of Americans.” She added that the earmarked funds “will help to increase tourism to New Orleans.”

Beyond those two earmarks, the largest in the Senate bill are:

  • $20 million for Humvee maintenance at an Army National Guard installation in Maine, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republicans. The senators said cuts in the maintenance program proposed by the administration would result in the “layoff of 175 employees in a region already suffering” from the recession.
  • $20 million for the Maui Space Surveillance System in Hawaii, requested by Mr. Inouye.
  • $25 million inserted by Mr. Inouye for the Hawaii Federal Health Care Network. Mr. Inouye’s Web site says the health care program “supports applied research, development and deployment of technology to improve access and the quality of care to service members, military families and impacted communities.”

Laura Peterson, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan spending watchdog, told The Washington Times, “Earmarks like these take money away from other defense programs that the Defense Department actually wants. While military health care is certainly a worthwhile venture, it’s hard to see how a program located in Hawaii that openly favors Hawaii-based industries guarantees [the Department of Defense] the best value for such an exorbitant price tag.”

Mr. Inouye had a total of 35 earmarks worth more than $206 million in the final bill, and the ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, sponsored 48 worth $216 million.

…………………………….

[Senator] Coburn [tried] to restore some of the money to its original purpose. One proposed amendment restored $100 million to the accounts by correcting the economic projections used in the bill to estimate future costs. That passed, but other amendments to prevent the use of O&M money to fund earmarks were soundly defeated.

…………………………….

Mr. Coburn said in May that the Navy had been forced to curtail at-sea training and flying because of a shortfall in 2009 O&M funds.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has called on lawmakers to reverse the cuts.

“These reductions would hurt force readiness and increase stress on military people and equipment,” the agency said.

The House approved its version of the bill in July. Ms. Peterson said that lawmakers still could restore the funding in the conference that reconciles the two versions of the bill.

The conference “presents a final opportunity for Congress to take their hands out of the cookie jar and put some dough where it’s really needed – protecting our fighting men and women,” she said.

Copyright 2009 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. Read the “Background” below. How much of the defense spending bill was earmarked by senators for their home states?

2. From what part of the defense spending bill did the senators take most of the money for their pet projects, according to analyst Winslow Wheeler?

3. What are the O&M accounts, and how are they used?

4. How did Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (Democrat-Hawaii) defend his earmarks?

5. Under “Background” below, read the explanation of how the defense appropriations bill is used.
a) Re-read paragraphs 12-15 for the explanations given by Senators John Kerry, Mary Landrieu and David Vittter for their earmarks in the defense bill. What do you think of their explanations?
b) Should the projects above and the others described in para. 16 be included in the defense spending bill? Explain your answer.


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Background

EARMARKS/PORK BARREL SPENDING

  • An appropriation is defined as a legislative act authorizing the expenditure of a designated amount of public funds for a specific purpose.
  • The purpose of the Senate Appropriations Committee is to control the appropriations process, as well as to ensure better management of Government spending by giving one committee the sole responsibility to examine executive agency budget estimates.
  • Pork-barrel, or ear-mark spending is a process by which congressmen add expenses for special projects onto important legislation that have nothing to do with the legislation to earn favor from voters in their states.  Adding the expenses onto legislation that needs to get passed ensures that it will pass through Congress easily.  The added expenses are used for special projects for Members of Congress to distribute to their constituents back home as an act of largesse, courtesy of the federal taxpayer.
  • In one case of pork-barrel spending in 2006, the Senate added billions of dollars in non-emergency spending to a bill that was meant to provide emergency funds for our troops in the field and those still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

APPROPRIATIONS BILL BASICS:  To understand the defense appropriations bill, it is necessary to briefly review its basic contents. These bills are typically divided into eight categories, or “Titles,” as follows:
(from d-n-i.net/fcs/defense_budget_tutorial_2.htm)

  • Military Personnel: funds the pay, benefits, and pensions for people in the military services, both active duty and the reserves; also included are housing allowances, some travel costs, and social security contributions. The amount appropriated for 2006 was $97.0 billion, $1.2 billion less than what the president asked for in his budget request.

  • Operation and Maintenance (O&M): a very diverse account that includes the costs to operate forces (i.e., gasoline, food, clothing, logistics, and more), upkeep for military facilities, weapons maintenance at DOD depots, training and military exercises, most transportation costs, spare parts, ROTC, all civilian salaries in the Pentagon, and almost anything else that doesn’t fit in the other parts of the budget. For 2006, Congress appropriated $123.6 billion, $3.3 billion less than the president’s request.

  • Procurement: the purchase of major hardware items for all military services (procurement of “minor” items, such as some spare parts, occurs in the O&M budget). Congress appropriated $76.5 billion; $100 million less than president’s proposal.

  • Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (R&D): the development and testing of all hardware. The 2006 appropriation was $72.1 billion, $2.7 billion more than the White House request.

  • Revolving and Management Funds: the financing of transactions between components inside the Department of Defense and to support some shipbuilding. The 2006 appropriation was $2.3 billion, $800 million less than the request.

  • Other DOD Programs: constituting the Defense Health Program (89 percent of this category), plus chemical munitions destruction, and the DOD Inspector General. Congress increased the request by $400 million to $22.7 billion.

  • General Provisions: a hodge-podge, varying from adding pork spending for Alaskan military bases, fisheries, and natural gas pipelines, in addition to protection for American producers of steel plate and anchor chain from foreign competition, support for specific military retirement homes, road building projects, museums, and other more significant purposes, described in detail below.

Resources

Visit the Center for Defense Information at cdi.org

Visit the Taxpayers for Common Sense website at taxpayer.net

Visit the Citizens Against Government Waste website at cagw.org

For the Senate Appropriations Committee website, go to appropriations.senate.gov

For the House Appropriations Committee website, go to appropriations.house.gov.