By DAHNA BLACK
Policymakers around Washington may have different ideas about how to trim the deficit, but panelists at a Taxpayers Protection Alliance Hill briefing agreed on one thing earlier this month: the Pentagon's approach to national security spending is woefully outdated.
The briefing explored potential cuts to three DoD programs: the Joint Strike Fighter Alternate Engine; the Medium Extended Air Defense System; and the Common Vertical Lift Support Program. The goal of the briefing was to provide Congress with options for sensibly cutting defense spending without jeopardizing national security or military effectiveness. [Find a transcript of the briefing here]
Panelists at the briefing included Loren Thompson, Chief Operating Officer at the Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of Source Associates; Mattie Corrao, Government Affairs Officer at Americans for Tax Reform; and Pete Sepp, a longtime advocate for whistleblower protections and Executive Vice President of the National Taxpayers Union.
Thompson discussed the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) alternate engine, a program that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates terminated this spring. He said the competition created by developing a second engine is artificial, and as a result, taxpayers are paying the price. “Competition is second only to patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels. And [the alternate engine] is a prime example of that.”
When asked to comment on the DoD’s recent decision to reconsider its position on the program if GE and Rolls-Royce, the manufacturers behind the alternate engine, self-finance the project, Thompson said the true cost of the competition is “not in production, but in upkeep. If we didn’t buy [the engine], we could save $10-20 billion over the lifetime of the program.”
Mattie Corrao discussed cutting Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a collaborative transatlantic missile defense project under development by the United States, Germany and Italy. Carrao noted that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in a recent report that cutting the program could save as much as $13 billion between FY 2012 and FY 2021. Corrao said another problem with the program lies in the authorization process, where programs like MEADS are being supported by American taxpayer dollars despite a lack of official authorization.
Pete Sepp spoke about the Common Vertical Lift Support Program, which would replace the Air Force’s fleet of Bell UH-1N Huey utility helicopters. By invoking the Economy Act of the 1930s, the United States Air Force (USAF) has decided to fast-track the procurement of these utility helicopters. “If the USAF is going to fund these programs, it must be fiscally responsible… fast-tracking the procurement isn’t a prudent idea” he said.
The briefing underscored the importance of nonpartisan cooperation and careful consideration of potential cuts as the Super Committee works towards reaching its goal of reducing the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years—a goal the panelists hope members of the Committee will achieve for fear of the alternative.
“We want to trim this waste and these duplicities now because, in the day, what comes next is an untailored cut across the board and we don't know what we're getting from that,” said Thompson. “This is … a good opportunity for people …to move forward on a more streamlined, more effective defense, and not have to maybe endure some of the criticisms they think they've had in the past about cutting defense budgets.”
Dahna Black is a POGO Policy Fellow.