ICYMI: At Hearing, Senator Warren Criticizes Defense Department Requesting Wasteful, “Wish List” Budgets on Top of its DoD Budget Proposal
Warren: “SOCOM and other commands are gaming the system. They take costs that should be part of a base budget request - essential programs like funding to come into compliance with brain injury prevention standards - and then put them on the wish list, daring Congress not to fund them. That way, they can boost their overall budget allocation.”
Washington, D.C. — At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned General Bryan P. Fenton, USA, Commander, United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) requesting millions of dollars in wish lists items on top of their annual budget submissions. Senator Warren also highlighted the need for her bipartisan and bicameral Streamline Pentagon Spending Act to eliminate the requirement to create wasteful lists and enhance civilian oversight over the budgetary process.
Transcript: Hearing, “Hearings to examine 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
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you Mr. Chairman. One of the primary purposes of this hearing is to evaluate your command’s budget requests.
Most federal agencies have to balance their “must haves” against their “nice to haves” when it comes to requests for money and they have to account for long term costs. For example, the maintenance of fleet vehicles that they want to buy. But, not the Department of Defense. DoD submits its budget for the things it wants and then it submits a second list of things that they want funded and they don’t add what the long term costs will be. DoD calls this second list “unfunded priorities.” I call it a “wish list.”
Last year, some parts of DoD stuck to their budgets and didn’t put anything on a wish list, but not SOCOM. Nope. SOCOM got $13.2 billion in its regular budget then turned around and asked for $656 million additionally.
One of the items on SOCOM’s wish list last year was $8.7 million to ensure that a SOCOM armament facility could meet blast exposure standards that protect service members from traumatic brain injury. General Fenton, do you agree that if SOCOM needs funding for a project that will ensure that it is in compliance with basic safety standards and help protect workers from brain damage, that project should be part of the command’s budget?
General Bryan P. Fenton, USA, Commander, United States Special Operations Command: Senator, I put a high priority on safety.
Senator Warren: So should it be part of your budget?
General Fenton: Any budget I build will reflect my priorities and my priority is safety and certainly aligned with the NDS (National Defense Strategy).
Senator Warren: So that means you think something like this should be in the base budget?
General Fenton: Senator, I put a high priority on safety and my budget will align –
Senator Warren: But you’re telling me your budget reflects your priorities and somehow this didn’t even make it in the basic budget. So let me ask it this way then. These armament facility improvements weren’t funded last year. So are you going to put that in your base budget this year or are you going to count on Congress to add extra money for it, which it didn’t do last year?
General Fenton: Senator, first thing I’ll do is get intimately familiar with the armament facility you’re discussing right now. Six months into the job I’m still working my way through a number of locations in the special ops community so I’ll take that for the record and get back to you, but my budget will be reflective of my priorities that are aligned with the national defense strategy and safety of our entire force is certainly a high priority for me.
Senator Warren: Well, I appreciate that, but I just want to make another point for the record. I wasn’t born yesterday. I get what is happening here. SOCOM and other commands are gaming the system. They take costs that should be part of a base budget request – essential programs like funding to come into compliance with brain injury prevention standards – and then put them on the wish list, daring Congress not to fund them. That way, they can boost their overall budget allocation.
In January, I sent a letter to Secretary Austin, along with Senators Braun, Lee, and King, telling DoD not to send Congress any wish lists as part of this year’s budget. So General Fenton, this is your first time submitting a budget as the commander of SOCOM. You’ll be sending it over to Congress this week. So you should be right on top of this. Will you pledge not to request any unfunded priority items on top of your annual budget request?
General Fenton: Senator, I will submit the budget that reflects my priorities aligned against the NDS and I will submit that and any UPL (Unfunded Priorities List) required by law that reflects facts of life changes, accelerated capabilities, and any additional NDS initiatives.
Senator Warren: Let me stop you right there. You need to submit a list, you’re right. That is required by law, but you don’t need to put anything in it or ask for any funding from it. The lists from European Command and Transportation Command were blank last year. That is, they lived within their budget. They did not come back for an additional bite at the apple. And I’m just asking if you will agree to do the same thing? That’s what budgets are about. They are about making your priorities clear and I want to know if you’re willing to live within the budget that you have from the DoD and not come back here for more.
General Fenton: Senator, I will submit a budget that is aligned with my priorities and aligned with the NDS –
Senator Warren: Is that a yes or a no.
General Fenton: Senator, as requested by law, and by law I will submit a UPL. I will take into consideration any facts of life –
Senator Warren: Okay. That’s frankly not even a very artful dodge. We don’t let any other part of the federal government behave this way, and for good reason. The budget process is about making tough choices and setting clear priorities. Anything in the regular budget must include an analysis of the long-term costs, not things that are on the wishlist. I have a bipartisan bill to eliminate waste like this, but DoD could shut it down voluntarily right now and I urge you to do that. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Next Article Previous Article