March 09, 2023

At Hearing, Warren Calls on Space and Strategic Command Leaders to Rein in Wasteful DoD “Wish Lists”

“[Space Command’s budget] has just been submitted this morning, you're telling me is already out of date for your command, and that you want to go outside the budget process?...  We should not be doing a dual-estimate here of budgets where you have one number and then you just come in and ask for a lot of additional money.” 

Video of Hearing Exchange (YouTube) 

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned the Commanders of the United States Space Command and the United States Strategic Command about their use of wasteful unfunded priorities lists, “wish lists” that distort the budget process and result in bloated, wasteful spending. 

Both Commanders confirmed that they would be submitting “wish lists” to Congress requesting funding in addition to what they requested through the formal budget process. Senator Warren noted that Space Command is submitting its budget request today – and is already committing to asking for a wish list to ask for more money.  Senator Warren called on DoD to rein in this wasteful spending and make sure its priorities are reflected in the formal budget process. 

In January, Senators Warren, Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Angus King (I-Maine) sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense urging the Department of Defense (DoD) not to ask for additional funding on top of their annual budget request. DoD’s $842 billion budget request is one of the largest in U.S. history. 

Transcript:  To receive testimony on the posture of United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2024 and the Future Years Defense
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services 
Thursday, March 9, 2023

Senator Elizabeth Warren: So the Biden administration is requesting $835 billion in the largest, one of the largest Pentagon budgets in history. Despite that gigantic request, I'm expecting that we will receive a torrent of letters from the services and the combatant commands asking for billions more through the so-called unfunded priorities list. That is the Pentagon's term for it, but I just call them wish lists. 

The DoD doesn't have to follow the same rules as every other federal agency, which is, other agencies have to balance their must-haves against their nice-to-haves and come up with a budget. Instead, each part of DoD also submits a second list of things that didn't go through the budget process that they still want funded. 

So in January, I sent a letter to Secretary Austin along with Senators Braun and Lee and King, telling DoD not to send Congress any wish lists as part of this year's budget process. Last year, some parts of DoD did not put anything on their wish list. And so my questions today are about whether or not the two of you will choose that route this year. So General Dickinson, you run Space Command, will you be submitting additional funding requests on top of the budget that DoD sent to Congress this morning?

General James H. Dickinson, Commander, United States Space Command: Thank you senator, I will submit a list. And there's a couple of reasons why I will. So being a combatant command that's only about three and a half years old, we are continuing to evolve, we are continuing mature. I described a little bit earlier how we're getting more people, our infrastructure is growing. 

And what we have facing us right now is a very dynamic threat in the space domain, our pacing challenge being China. And so with that, we find ourselves in a situation where we try to grow a little bit quicker. And sometimes when we do that, because of the threat, it'll cost a little more money, and money that I haven't forecasted because I wasn't able to look at that inside of the budget cycle. 

That's the first piece of that. The second piece of it is, as I look to round out some of the capabilities that I need, specifically space domain awareness, we are finding in the commercial market that there are companies that can provide that type of capability to us. And we are taking that capability in our commercial integrations strategy, and bringing those partners on board. 

Sometimes I don't have that, how much that's going to cost in a contract inside of the two-year budget cycle that we're in. So those are some things that I'm doing that would be in my UPL. One would be how do I grow my command faster to meet the, to meet the threat? And second, how do I bring on capabilities that I might not have forecasted that I have, that I've come to realize?

Senator Warren: So the budget that has just been submitted this morning, you're telling me is already out of date for your command, and that you want to go outside the budget process? You don't want to have to do the 10-year cost estimate, you want to go outside that to just plus up your budget. Is that right?

General Dickinson: It is, the reason I would submit a UPL is to make sure that I can grow as the threat grows. 

Senator Warren: Well, but that's the point of the budget process is that you go to the Department of Defense, you say here's how I need to grow, they give you a number, and then you make the appropriate choices within that number. And you're just saying they didn't give you a big enough number? So you want to do an end run in order to plus up your budget? Is that what you're saying General?

General Dickinson: I'm saying that the space domain, the characterization of what I see going on in space, with the advancements and, of the threat from the Chinese in space, warrant me to be able to account for that, inside of that. 

Senator Warren: Well, but that's the point of going through the DoD budgeting process. You've been given a number by DoD and you've just decided to go outside that. I want to also be sure to get to General Cotton. You run our nation’s Strategic Command, responsible for our nuclear weapons arsenal. Now, during your confirmation, you told me to quote “as the Commander, my job is to ensure that I can execute my mission with the dollars I have been given.”

General Cotton, same question to you as General Dickinson. Will you be submitting additional funding requests on top of the budget that DoD sent to Congress this morning?

General Anthony J. Cotton, Commander, United States Strategic Command: Thank you, senator. I think I had that caveat there too as far as talking about emerging responsibilities and emerging threats. 

No different than what General Dickinson said, the two-year cycle. things change within a two-year cycle. I've been asked this morning on how am I going to handle looking at the new emerging threats that we have just seen in probably the last 60 days of, of what's going on within the strategic threat picture. 

So right now, we're going to have to look to see if we're going to submit, UPL, to be able to get after some of the, some of the threats that we're seeing today. I am responsible for, for EMS, the spectrum management piece, we are right there on the two-year cycle where we didn't do that two years ago for the 24 budget to understand how we're going to be able to set that up to be able to get after some problems. 

So I stand by what I said, as as a Commander, I will always try to make sure that I get I can be able to do my job within my means. But I always as all commanders, we all have emerging threats or needs that might change the calculation on what our previous budget had said. 

Senator Warren: Well, I appreciate that, and I am out of time. But I just want to say, I think we should be asking DoD to write budgets that reflect their actual priorities, and that they should know as much about these emerging threats as the individual commanders do, and that we should not be doing a dual-estimate here of budgets where you have one number and then you just come in and ask for a lot of additional money. I think that's wrong.