Last week, I was sorely disappointed that the House of Representatives failed to pass the most commonsense of bills – the Defense Spending Report Card Act. If there was ever an example of what is wrong with Washington it would be the lopsided vote of 70-330 by which this bill failed.
The Defense Spending Report Card simply would have required an accounting of Defense Department money spent on Congressional earmarks. The Department of Defense would have had to report the total annual cost of these initiatives, the purpose of each, and an analysis of how each initiative would advance the goals of the Department of Defense. Each Defense earmark would have had to withstand the spotlight long enough to justify its expense.
No one begrudges a single dollar spent to keep our troops well equipped and well trained, especially during a time of war when our highest priority is to help them complete their mission so they can return home safely and soon. But, good will towards the troops should not be an excuse for Congress or the Pentagon to turn the defense spending bills into an endless goody bag of pet projects.
Most projects that accomplish a legitimate Defense Department goal or work toward the statutory mission of the Department will be included in the President’s budget request, which is developed in close consultation with the experts at the Pentagon. There will be worthy projects left out of the budget request, but they will be few and far between, and more importantly, they will be able to withstand the scrutiny of the press, the American public, and the Congress if highlighted in a Defense Spending Report Card.
Especially in a time of war, defense dollars equal lives saved and a country kept safe. Money that our generals want to be used for body armor or missile defense shouldn’t be diverted in backroom deals in the dark of night. And, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, the FY07 defense appropriations bill included more than 2500 earmarks worth $12 billion. The Defense Spending Report Card Act would have helped Congress and the Department of Defense to weed out the useful from the frivolous, the good from the bad.
The Defense Department budget has long been one of the most complex and difficult to decipher. Though the Defense Spending Report Card Act may not be available to Congress in the coming year to help decode that budget, it is my hope that a new Secretary of Defense and a fresh perspective at the highest levels in the Pentagon will translate into greater accountability in the Defense Department budget overall.