December 15, 2022

Warren, Braun, Lee, King Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Reduce Wasteful Pentagon Spending, Repeal Unfunded Priorities List

This bicameral legislation is led by Representatives Pramila Japayal and Tom McClintock in the U.S. House of Representatives

Bill Text (pdf) - One Pager (pdf)

Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), along with Senators Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Mike Lee (R-Utah.) and Angus Stanley King Jr. (I-Maine.), also a member of SASC, and U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), introduced the Streamline Pentagon Spending Act, bipartisan and bicameral legislation to repeal statutory requirements to provide unfunded priorities lists, reduce wasteful reporting burdens, and enhance civilian oversight over the budgetary process. 

“The Department of Defense’s priorities should be reflected in its budget. These wish lists have become the Pentagon’s primary tool to boost an already excessive top line, and these budget games need to stop. This new, bipartisan bill would help ensure that Congress does its part by eliminating this wasteful requirement. Secretary Austin should also act to stop the Pentagon’s bureaucratic money-grabbing,” said Senator Warren.

“Our crushing national debt is a national security threat. Defense is the most important thing we do, and if we’re going to get our servicemembers the best equipment, we need a stable budgeting process. Unfunded priority lists may have started with good intentions, but as Congress’s budget dysfunction has gotten worse it has morphed into another budgeting gimmick with negative results such as non-necessities being included in the budget and critical necessities ended up on a wish list. The nation and our military deserve a stable budgeting process, which this legislation will be a step toward.” Senator Mike Braun

“Requiring our military officials to provide unfunded priorities lists distorts Congress's ability to conduct congressional oversight of military spending. The lists offer no information about the long-term cost of these investments and undermine the overall budget process. I'm proud to co-sponsor this legislation which will reduce costly reporting requirements and enhance the ability of Congress to carry out its constitutional duty to oversee the budgetary process and ensure the responsible use of tax-payer funds,” said Senator Lee.

“Year after year, the military’s "unfunded requirements" lists force Congress to pour more money into an already bloated defense budget that benefits from no oversight or accountability,” said Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. “These unfunded priorities are simply a collated wishlist, not vetted by top leadership and not ranked in terms of priority or need. Our current system is simply untenable, and we cannot continue sinking enormous sums of money into non-critical wish list items that are not even priorities of current DoD leadership—all while working people suffer. With our bipartisan, bicameral bill, we will put an end to the requirement to submit these wish lists and move one step closer to oversight and accountability of our military.”

“The unfunded priorities mandate is a lazy way to load up the defense budget with pet projects that couldn’t be justified with the budget’s parameters and an invitation for commanders to end-run the president. It needs to stop,” said Rep. Tom McClintock.

For decades the military services have submitted wish lists, referred to as “unfunded priorities lists,” to Congress on top of their annual budget submissions. Unlike agencies’ annual budget submissions,  these wish lists do not include information about the long term costs of these investments over the future year's defense plan (FYDP). As a consequence, these lists can distort the force and undermine the overall budget process. 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made curtailing these lists a centerpiece of his broader Department of Defense reform efforts, which led to and shrinking the size of these lists by nearly 90 percent. The fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act created a statutory requirement for the chiefs of staff of the military services to provide these lists annually. Subsequent defense bills have expanded this requirement to other defense agencies and components. 

Recently this practice has been abused by placing programs that belong in the base budget in the unfunded priorities list. For example, the Government Accountability Office’s review of the impact of the Navy’s unfunded priorities lists impact on multiyear procurement found, “the Navy was not required to explain this decision to Congress, leading to the concerns that it was engaging in budgetary maneuvers that impede congressional oversight and decision-making.” This year the Army included needed construction and upgrades for military housing in the unfunded priorities lists in a similar form of gamesmanship. 

The Streamline Pentagon Budgeting Act specifically would: 

The Streamline Pentagon Budgeting Act would repeal statutory requirements to provide unfunded priorities lists, reduce wasteful reporting burdens, and enhance civilian oversight over the budgetary process. Specifically, the legislation:

  1. Repeals the requirement for the top military officers to provide unfunded priorities lists.
  2. Repeals the requirement for combatant commanders to provide unfunded priorities lists.
  3. Repeals the requirement for the Missile Defense Agency to provide unfunded priorities lists.

“National Taxpayers Union applauds the introduction of the Streamline Pentagon Budgeting Act. Congressional requirements for the military branches to send lawmakers annual wish lists outside of the regular budget have made it far too easy for Congress to increase topline defense spending levels, sometimes even tens of billions of dollars beyond the military’s requests. At a time of soaring debt and deficit levels, lawmakers must rein in the bad budget practices that send military spending ever higher.”-- Andrew Lautz, Director of Federal Policy for National Taxpayers Union

“The Pentagon’s yearly unfunded requirements lists undermine our national security by disrupting efforts to exercise real oversight into the Pentagon budget and providing an extra-budgetary means to fund the services’ wish lists. These ‘priorities’ bypass the annual budgetary process of the Pentagon, and build in space to arbitrarily increase defense spending for programs that were not deemed critical to long-term Pentagon planning in the first place. Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to be unable to pass a financial audit, and was unable to adequately account for about 61% of its $3.5 trillion dollars in assets. There are real national security challenges facing this nation, but in order to meet them effectively Congress needs to mandate some real budgetary accountability in the Pentagon. Ending the unfunded requirement mandate and forcing the services to work within the normal budgetary process would be a serious first step toward making that happen.” – Geoff Wilson, Director of the Center for Defense Information at POGO.

“No agency spends as gratuitously or as wastefully as the Pentagon, yet the Department of Defense continues to receive preferential treatment year after year by submitting its Unfunded Priorities List to Congress asking for tens of billions in excess military spending. Given that the Pentagon can’t even adequately track the three-quarters-of-a-trillion dollars is currently has, and has failed not only one but five consecutive audits, removing the Unfunded Priorities List requirement is a long overdue step towards reallocating the bloated Pentagon budget away from weapons and war and back into true human needs.” – Savannah Wooten, People Over Pentagon Advocate, Public Citizen

The legislation is endorsed by National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Public Citizen, FreedomWorks, R Street, the Project On Government Oversight, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.