By DANA LIEBELSON
On Monday, the day before Valentine's Day, President Obama will deliver his 2013 budget proposal to Congress. Some of his recommendations have already been hinted at in the State of the Union address and in the quasi-unveiling of the Pentagon’s budget. However, we’re still anxiously waiting for the budget line items to be finalized. Instead of simply twiddling our thumbs, POGO staffers have made Obama this “Budget Valentine”—outlining some of the our wishes we’d love to see made reality.
Maybe you have a fancy dinner, chocolate or roses planned for your Valentine’s Day date. Or maybe, like the government, you’re strapped for cash. In that case, we recommend you give him or her POGO’s “Budget Valentine” too—and keep reading for more information on these important recommendations.
CMRR-NF: Six Little Letters, Zero Good Reasons
The U.S. is planning to unnecessarily pour billions of dollars into the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), a proposed Department of Energy (DOE) project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which would enable production of nuclear weapons components. As POGO has pointed out numerous times, this facility is an estimated $3.7 to $5.9 billion money pit. Click here for eight reasons why CMRR-NF’s funding needs to be cut.
UPF a Creek: Rescue Taxpayers from Uranium Processing Boondoggle
The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) in Tennessee is expected to cost between $6.5 and $7.5 billion, but the arguments to build the facility are wearing thin. Existing facilities could be modernized and perform the same functions as UPF, saving taxpayers around $6 billion. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) and dozens of Members of Congress have agreed that the nuclear weapons budget is a hold-over from the Cold War, and needs to be cut.
Think Outside the MOX
The Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility is another boondoggle brought to us by
the agency that is already planning to waste money on CMRR-NF: the Department of Energy. It was a nice idea in theory—take legacy weapons grade plutonium and convert it to fuel that could be sold to commercial power reactors—but the materials required to create MOX fuel aren’t readily available, and the only current buyer of the MOX fuel dropped the contract. Eliminating funding of this wasteful facility could save taxpayers $2 billion.
Don’t Modernize B61 Bombs in Europe
The U.S. has approximately 200 B61 nuclear bombs deployed and stored in Turkey, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) defense. But serious questions have been raised about the military efficacy of these bombs—including concerns that aircrafts will run out of gas before they reach their targets. It’s time for European members of NATO to take responsibility for the costs of these bombs—we can’t afford it.
Reduce Spending on Service Contractors by 15 Percent
The U.S. needs to reduce spending on service contractors by 15 percent. We’ve been beating POGO blog readers over the head with this one—mainly, because it’s one of the most important things the U.S. could do to reach its budget goals. You know the story: trillions of dollars spent on service contractors—from accountants and statisticians to nurses and groundskeepers—since 2000, and a POGO report that shows that contractors cost taxpayers almost twice as much as in-house workers when performing comparable services. This kind of overspending is simply unsustainable.
Buy Cheaper Jets Instead of F-35 B/C Models
With only 20 percent of testing complete and many of the most challenging tests left to come, the $380+ billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program’s price tag is likely to keep going up. The Marine Corps short takeoff and vertical landing B variant of the JSF is the most complicated of the three versions and the Navy’s carrier variant may have trouble landing on aircraft carriers given its design, a recent Pentagon report recently revealed. Replacing the B and C Models of the F-35 program with F/A-18E/Fs would save an estimated $43.64 billion in procurement and support costs over ten years.
Cancel One Variant of the Littoral Combat Ship
The Littoral (close-to-shore) Combat Ship (LCS) has been beset by the usual gamut of cost overruns and delays—but one version of the ship is also experiencing “aggressive” corrosion, which is crazy, given that it’s less than two years old. Additionally, multiple Members of Congress, including Senator John McCain, have questioned the viability of the LCS program. Based on Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, the DoD could save approximately $160 million in procurement costs from FY 2012 to FY 2021 by cancelling one of the two variants of the ship.
Invest in Federal Spending Transparency
It’s hard to know where waste and fraud are happening when there isn’t any way to comprehensively and accurately track federal spending. What is needed is a one-stop shop online where any citizen could easily search and discover exactly how our tax dollars are being spent. The Obama Administration has taken steps towards this goal by creating the Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GATB). The idea is to expand the way transparency was successfully used to minimize fraud by the Recovery Act Transparency Board to all federal spending, create the next generation of Recovery.gov and USAspending.gov, and employ watchdogs (IGs) and whistleblowers to root out misspending and wrongdoing. But it is going to take an initial investment—at least as much as what was spent on transparency and accountability in the Recovery Act—in order to make this a reality. But then it will pay huge dividends for years to come.
Feed the Watchdogs
In the U.S. government, there is no shortage of wasteful spending. That’s why the best way for taxpayers to get bang for their buck is to invest in three crucial offices of oversight: the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Offices of Inspectors General (OIG).
The OSC is the agency that defends whistleblowers through the Whistleblower Protection Act. Under Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, the OSC has thoroughly investigated those who retaliate against whistleblowers, and ensured that whistleblowers have the incentives and protections to come forward. But recently, the OSC has been threatened with budget cuts. This is seriously troubling news for U.S. whistleblowers, and as a result, taxpayers.
The GAO reported last year that it saves taxpayers $87 for every $1 investment. The GAO provides oversight on everything from Wall Street and the intelligence community, to rockets and ships. But despite the fact that this is arguably the government’s most important watchdog, the agency’s budget was recently reduced by 6.4 percent. The GAO is not a place to be cutting corners—we need to invest in this watchdog.
Each OIG serves as a fortification for a government agency, stopping waste, fraud, and abuse dead in their tracks. In 2009, according to a GAO report, inspectors general had a budget of $2.3 billion—but identified more than $43.3 billion in potential savings. Despite this outstanding return, some IG positions remain vacant for several years, letting malpractice continue unchecked. OIGs need investment—not neglect.
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.