March 28, 2023

Department of Defense Recognizes Ineffectiveness of “Wish List” Spending, Endorses Senator Warren’s Proposal to Repeal Requirement

DoD: The Wish List Process has “No Necessary Connection to the Secretary’s Global Priorities.”

Response from DoD (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – In response to requests from U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Mike Braun, Angus King, and Mike Lee the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Comptroller Mike McCord, confirmed the  ineffectiveness of combatant commands and military services submitting unfunded priorities lists on top of their annual budget requests and endorsed a proposal to repeal the statutory requirement.

“The budget process requires making tough choices and setting clear priorities, and requesting billions of dollars in ‘unfunded requirements’ has been undermining that process,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “I’m glad that DoD agrees we need to repeal the requirement to provide these ‘wish lists’.”

“The current statutory practice of having multiple individual senior leaders submit priorities for additional funding absent the benefit of weighing costs and benefits across the Department is not an effective way to illuminate our top joint priorities,” wrote the official.

Each year, when DoD submits its annual budget to Congress, it also submits a supplemental budget request called an unfunded priorities list that helps the Department game the system and increase its budget. These lists don’t come with long-term cost estimates, harming oversight and making it difficult for taxpayers to know if their dollars are being used responsibly. 

“Although Secretary Austin follows a similar practice to that of former Secretary Gates by requiring that these lists are submitted for his review, that process alone does not effectively address the underlying issue of requiring individual leaders to submit proposals with no necessary connection to the Secretary’s global priorities,” the official continued.

Senator Warren has repeatedly criticized this practice in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s annual posture hearings. 

In January 2023, Senator Warren, King, Lee, and Braun wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in January, calling on the agency to rein in its use of these unfunded priorities lists. Senator Warren also wrote to DoD in December 2022, criticizing the most recent “unfunded priorities list,” which asked for an additional $25 billion, including $19.3 billion for inflation. 

Senator Warren has previously called for the passage of her Streamline Pentagon Spending Act, bipartisan and bicameral legislation to repeal the statutory requirement to provide unfunded priorities lists, reduce wasteful reporting burdens, and enhance civilian oversight over the budgetary process.

In its response, DoD endorsed Senator Warren’s “proposal to repeal the requirement” that had been in place since 2017.