Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mr. Bush, This Isn't Your Personal Checkbook

While preparing for this week's lecture on the Defense Budget and Procurements, I ran across an expenditure titled "emergency supplemental requests." I research it further and found that according to the Council on Foreign Relations, these line items are to be used to fund "unforeseen national emergencies, such as war, floods and famine." However, there is growing concern that the current administration is currently exploiting the use of this tactic as a means of bypassing legislative scrutiny of normal budgetary expenditures and to avoid the federally mandated spending limits meant to hold down the deficit.

The most recent emergency supplement request was for the amount off $99.7 billion, bringing total military spending up to $632 billion for FY 2007. The previous congress had already earmarked a record $462 billion baseline funding initially for the defense budget, the difference in the two amounts being the sum of "emergency funding" received as the President "sees fit." Again, these funds are not subject to any of the scrutiny or congressional floor debates of normal budgetary expenditures, instead only a unilateral, discretionary decision by the President.

An example in the current supplement request is listed as $1.2 billion for Air Force "basic research" and another $3.9 billion for the acquisition of more advanced, high performance fighters. Given that we find ourselves entrenched in a counter-insurgency effort, which mitigates the role of the Air Force, should our leaders consider the previous expenditures an "emergency" and not subject them to the scrutinies of the normal budgetary process? I can't help to think how the $1.2 billion requested by the Air Force for "basic research", might serve the people in the ninth world of New Orleans still without a home. At the very least, these questions should be brought open to debate and not unilateral decision making.

The war has far exceeded the emergency stage and the practice of funding it through these emergency supplemental requests should cease. Stephen Biddle argues, "It is disingenuous of the administration to claim we have no idea what Iraq needs will be and so we can’t budget for them.” Congress must work hard to eliminate these practices. According to experts, the democratically led congress has already made their presence felt or the most recent $99.7 billion request could have reach the $150 billion mark.

1 comment:

kyernel said...

I concur that the budget process for the military is messed up beyond all recognition. But to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the President is also disingenuous, as the Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress also have their input. Under former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, DOD continued to address the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as fleeting apparitions. To acknowledge the cost in normal budgeting would highlight the costs of the war. This would require more advance notice of intent and planning figures behind the proposals, and yes, scrutiny from Congress. DOD prepares the budgets, not the President.

But Congress is addicted to emergency supplemental funding for many of the same reasons. They can ear mark portions of the supplementals with no advance notice of intent, no publishing of planning figures, and no scrutiny from other areas of Congress or branches of government. And the problem has grown every on every emergency supplemental sent forward for voting. Clearly, the logic behind this is to slip in the pork requisition and know that no good American would vote against the larger defense bill just to get to your pet projects. Of course, this has happened to other bills for ages, but they lacked the patriotic clout of today's emergency supplemental requests. Congress approves budgets, is required to do so prior to the start of each fiscal year (1 October), but have failed in at least the last three years to do so in a timely manner such that governmental agency manning and execution were negatively impacted. The President can only veto budgets, and it appears he will exercise that authority soon.