From Wasted Ammo to a Runaway Blimp, How the Pentagon Mismanaged $33 Billion
Policy + Politics

From Wasted Ammo to a Runaway Blimp, How the Pentagon Mismanaged $33 Billion

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The U.S. Defense Department could save itself a cool $33 billion if Pentagon leaders took a firmer hand with wasteful programs and imposed some basic budget discipline, according to a new think-tank study.

The report by the Center for International Policy offers 27 examples of inefficient Pentagon spending. It comes one day after President Obama rolled out the department’s $583 billion budget request for fiscal 2017, with the Pentagon second only to Social Security in terms of spending.

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“Whether one thinks the Pentagon budget is too low or too high, no one wants the department to waste taxpayer dollars,” said the study. “Both budget hawks and defense hawks should be able to agree that whatever amount of money the Pentagon ultimately gets, it should be spent and managed effectively. The department is failing spectacularly at this task.”

Some of the wasteful spending has already received some attention.

For example, a section of the report focused on Afghanistan cites the dubious work by the Pentagon’s $820 million Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFBSO).

The disbanded group has come under intense congressional scrutiny after a series of watchdog reports uncovered millions in wasteful spending, including $150 million spent on luxurious private villas for contractors.

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The TFBSO villas get a mention in the new study, along with $720 million in late fees the Pentagon racked up by leasing shipping containers and not returning them on time, and $468 million the department paid for C-27A transport aircraft for the Afghan Air Force that failed to meet basic operating requirements and lacked spare parts. The Pentagon eventually scrapped the planes for 6 cents a pound, recouping just $32,000, the report says.

In terms of major weapons programs, the report has a field day with the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The $2.7 billion surveillance system was designed to help bolster U.S. missile defenses but its utility has been questioned for years.

One of the balloons that are part of the system grabbed the nation’s attention last year when it came unanchored and wreaked havoc as it drifted across Maryland, knocking out power to thousands of homes and putting the Army on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and claims.

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The study notes also that the Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier program is $4.7 billion over budget on its first two ships. The Navy gets hit again for its Littoral Combat Ship program, thanks to the $780 million price tag for each of the first four vessels. While the per unit cost has fallen to $360 million, questions remains about the LCS, including its capabilities and its survivability at sea.

The Air Force doesn’t escape criticism: The report notes the service’s next generation of GPS satellites is $1.1 billion over budget.

Other examples focus on questionable Pentagon procurement, like spending $857 million on excess parts and supplies; $49 million spent by the Army National Guard on professional sports advertising in fiscal 2014; and spending $1 billion to get rid of $16 billion worth of outdated munitions, some of which may have been still usable.

The think-tank suggests Congress can help stem the wasteful tide by holding more oversight hearings, as a Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel did last month when it looked into the TFBSO’s work. Lawmakers can also renew the charter for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and pass legislation that provides financial incentives for the Pentagon to conduct -- and pass -- a financial audit.

Earlier this year a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would impose penalties on the Pentagon if it fails meet a legally mandated goal of being fully auditable by September 2017. Agency officials have already hinted the department might not make that goal.