February 01, 2023

Warren Leads Bipartisan Call to DoD: Stop Sending Congress “Bloated Wish Lists” of Wasteful, Unnecessary Spending

DoD Requested Additional $49 Billion in “Unfunded Priorities” Last Year

“The Department of Defense must show taxpayers that it is a responsible steward of its funds. That must begin with eliminating the practice of sending Congress bloated wish lists for additional funds on top of its core budget submissions."

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Angus King (I-Maine), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, calling on the Department of Defense (DoD) to rein in DoD’s use of wasteful “unfunded priorities” lists that help DoD increase spending beyond its core priorities. 

“The statutory requirements for the military services, combatant commands, and other Department of Defense components to produce annual ‘unfunded priorities’ wish lists have become wasteful and inefficient tools that increase spending beyond DoD’s core priorities,” wrote the lawmakers. “We are increasingly concerned that budget gamesmanship is leading to the placement of critical programs in ‘unfunded priorities’ lists, rather than the Department’s initial budget which should be accurately reflecting our true national security priorities.”

DoD’s initial wish list last year requested more than $24 billion on top of the Department’s $773 billion budget request, and in November, DoD submitted a second request for an additional $25 billion. The lawmakers expressed concerns that DoD’s abuse of these lists undermines transparency in the budget process since they are not required to disclose the multi-year impact of funding additional programs. The lawmakers are calling on Secretary Austin to use his authority to curtail this wasteful practice, noting that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reduced the budget impact of these lists by nearly 90 percent. 

Senator Warren has led vigilant, bipartisan oversight of Pentagon spending in the Senate:

  • In December 2022, Senator Warren sent a letter to DOD, criticizing its most recent “unfunded priorities list,” which asked for an additional $25 billion, including $19.3 billion for inflation. The DoD’s budget asks contradict assurances Senator Warren received in October that DoD would not need blanket inflation-based policy changes. 
  • In September 2022, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Senator Warren questioned General Anthony Cotton, nominee for STRATCOM commander, about how he would handle so-called “unfunded priorities” that become wish lists to boost the Pentagon’s budget.
  • In June 2022, Senator Warren introduced the bicameral Stop Price Gouging the Military Act, which would enhance DoD’s ability to access certified cost and pricing data. Part of Senator Warren’s legislation was incorporated into the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act reported to the Senate.
  • In May 2022, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Senator Warren criticized Army leaders for reducing its military housing budget request and instead asking for those funds in their unfunded priorities list.
  • In April 2022, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, DoD Secretary Lloyd Austin III agreed with Senator Warren that the proposed DoD budget should not increase by $90 to $400 billion, stating that the additional billions in funding was not necessary.
  • In July 2020, in response to questioning from Senator Warren in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said big defense contractors cannot divert the increased progress payments towards share buybacks, dividends, or executive salaries.
  • In May 2020, Senator Warren wrote to the Department requesting clarification on how the Department would prevent profiteering following a recent change to increase payments to contractors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.