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Expert Panel Shoots Straight on Missile Defense
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 09/24/12

As regular readers of “Government Bytes!” will remember, National Taxpayers Union has often contended that by spending smarter instead of just harder on ballistic missile defense programs, elected officials can protect the nation’s finances as well as its citizens. For example, we’ve been encouraging Congress to concentrate funding for the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) component of the Aegis defense platform on the “IB” and “IIA” variants rather than the somewhat tenuous “IIB” version. Our commentary appearing on The Hill’s Congress Blog earlier this month praised Senate Appropriators for doing just that:

Increases in overall missile defense spending notwithstanding, Senators were right to direct resources toward the next generation of SM-3, known as Block IB, instead of the more futuristic IIB version (which received a cut of $169 million). After a challenging first test in the development phase, Block IB has met with several successes, including two difficult intercepts this year. …Meanwhile, Block IIB remains an ambitious design that is confined more to the drawing board than the test range. … [A]ll Senators ought to agree upon setting budget priorities for systems that can maintain a predictable cost pattern between now and the end of the decade. On this score, SM-3 Block IB holds better promise than Block IIB.

Others share NTU’s opinion on this matter, from a similar fiscal standpoint. In April, six conservative organizations joined us on an NTU-led open letter to Congress that stated:

Over our organizations’ histories we have encountered projects throughout the armed services that promised massive technological advancements for warfighters, only to yield underwhelming   results, behind-schedule evolution, and overinflated price tags. … Highly risky ventures like Block IIB often take similar trajectories – all offer huge potential on paper, many are kept alive long after that potential fades, and few have fiscal outcomes that are acceptable to overburdened taxpayers.

Recently this stance received a vindication of sorts from a report authored by the National Research Council for the National Academy of Sciences entitled, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives.”

Given the government’s penchant for studying problems rather than solving them, it is a miracle more American taxpayers aren’t injured from becoming entangled in all the blue ribbons shed from the multitude of commissions in Washington. But as The New York Times explained, the findings represent “the first time that the research council – an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, chartered by Congress to give scientific and technical advice to the government and considered the nation’s preeminent group of scientists – has weighed in on the nation’s overall plans for defeating missile attacks.” The 16-member panel included engineers, scientists, and other experts from think tanks, academic institutions, and the defense industry.

Their conclusion, laid out in more than 250 technical and jargon-filled pages, was that the current approach to missile defense needs an adjustment to stress “evolutionary” approaches using existing systems and practical, proven designs. Calling the recommendations “a major blow to President Obama’s strategy,” which NTU has also criticized, the Times reported that the panel is calling for a “stronger domestic system” of sensors and ground-based interceptors that would abandon step four of the current “Phased Adaptive Approach” (PAA). Although the National Research Council’s document is a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms, one section describes the panel’s conclusion in relatively simple terms:

Phase 4 of PAA … is an expensive solution for improving homeland defense yet limited in effectiveness. The committee’s analysis shows that notional interceptors with a fly-out velocity greater than 4.5km/sec benefit neither European defense nor other Aegis defense missions. Therefore, Phase 4 of PAA, which is the SM-3 Block IIB higher performance interceptor, has value only for an early shot opportunity for homeland defense, provided it has sufficient burnout velocity to preclude being overflown, but comes at a high acquisition and life-cycle cost. [The panel’s] alternative – an evolved GMD [Ground-Based Midcourse Defense] system – provides a more effective homeland defense solution and avoids any need for Phase 4 of PAA.

The Times noted that the report claims the National Research Council’s strategy “could fit within current antimissile spending – which runs about $10 billion a year – if the military eliminated what the panel describes as costly and unneeded systems.” Still, the report cites somewhat higher life-cycle costs with its plan, meaning that Congress would need to examine the details carefully to ensure that stewardship of tax dollars remained a top priority. Other offsetting reductions might be necessary. Despite these caveats, the bottom line is becoming more and more evident: a missile-defense plan that relies on maturing technologies like SM-3 Blocks IB and IIA is a better move than gambling on systems like IIB with less predictable cost and performance patterns. Now Congress needs to demonstrate it’s willing to learn from these findings rather than roll the dice with more tax dollars at stake.

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Representatives From Separate Parties Help Stop Wasteful Military Program
Posted By:  - 07/16/12

Representatives Jack Kingston and McCollum have teamed up to stop the military from sponsoring professional sports through an amendment to the DOD authorization bill. This practice, which is an $80 million a year expense, has shown little in the way of effectiveness towards its ultimate goal of recruiting more members for the military. The large price tag and lack of any direct benefits is what has brought this unlikely team of a Republican and a Democrat together. Even those who support the program have little to offer in defense. USA Today reports:

Creech (resource and contracts manager for the National Guard recruiting division) said that in fiscal year 2012, the National Guard has been contacted by more than 24,800 individuals interested in joining because of the racing sponsorship. Of those, Creech said that 20 were qualified candidates and that none joined.

The military is obviously a vital program, and having a way to recruit people is necessary for its success. There is also little doubt that NASCAR fans are strong supporters of the military.  All that being said, the military sponsoring professional sport is not yielding results. Not one candidate joined the military from the $80 million dollar program, and the program is not doing what it is meant to.

While no one wants to harm ability of the military to recruit, there has got to be a better way for them to use the money they receive to reach more qualified recruits, and actually have them sign up. This money, however small the amount in comparison to what we spend, is being wasted on a program that is not working. Regardless of amount, our elected leaders need to be held accountable for how tax dollars are spent and not waste them on programs that do not work.

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New Documentary Takes On Wasteful UN
Posted By:  - 06/29/12

Concerned taxpayers have long kept watchful and weary eyes on the activities of the United Nations. Thanks to a recently-released documentary, “UN Me,” their eyes will have reason to shed some more tears.

The film focuses primarily on the UN’s failures as an organization chartered to promote world peace, by critically examining election monitoring in Cambodia, peacekeeping operations in Cote d’Ivoire, and nuclear non-proliferation efforts, to name a few.  Yet, the movie also demonstrates how the UN’s institutional corruption and dysfunction have fostered the misuse of American taxpayer dollars. According to the Narrator and Producer, Ami Horowitz, the United States spent $8 billion on the UN and its programs in 2010, a 21 percent increase from the year before. What has happened to money like this over the years? According to the film:

  • UN vehicles, underwritten by member country contributions, have actually been used by terrorists to commit crimes;
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency, funded at $380 million, devoted major resources on countries like Germany, Japan, and Canada instead of concentrating on countries posing a greater security threat; and
  • Several multilateral institutions, including the UN, were providing aid to Rwanda during its internal turmoil that the country’s military forces were able to spend for ammunition purchases.

It seems evident that if the UN is plagued with corruption and difficulty in peacekeeping management, then its fiscal management of taxpayer funds is most likely handled poorly as well. To learn more regarding the use of US tax dollars in the UN, visit the “UN Me” website at: http://unmemovie.com/ (also available on iTunes)

 

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Has Defense Spending Declined Significantly Since 1965? It Depends on Which Numbers You Use
Posted By: Demian Brady - 02/03/12

In a recent op/ed, the Washington Examiner featured a chart from our friends at the Heritage Foundation (based on data from the Office of Management and Budget) that shows spending on national defense and entitlements as a percentage of GDP over the past several decades. The data shows that defense spending consumed 7.4 percent of GDP in 1965, rising to its peak of just under 10 percent a few years later during the Vietnam War. The subsequent years show a steady decline that was partially interrupted by the Reagan years, but then resumed, sinking to around 3 percent of GDP in 2000. The post-September 11th build-up saw defense spending rise to 5 percent of GDP by 2010.

A caption on the chart notes that “spending on national defense … has declined significantly over time, despite wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” But there are other ways to examine the numbers. Here’s another chart, also based on budget data.

defense_outlays_thumbnail
(Click to open chart in a new window)

 

The above chart converts annual defense spending totals to the dollar’s value in 2005. A constant-dollar comparison illustrates how much we have been spending while accounting for inflation that changes the worth of the currency from one year to another.

In 1965, defense spending was $364 billion in constant dollars. Rather than shrinking steadily since that time, the chart shows that spending on defense reached $402 billion in 2002 before rising to $608 billion in 2010. Because our economy is much larger than it was in 1962, we were able to spend comparatively more on defense than we did in 1965, $245 billion more, in constant dollars, even though the figure represents a smaller percentage of total GDP.

In current dollars, we spent $693.6 billion on defense in FY 2010. If we did return to a 7.4 percent level of GDP, defense outlays would have been $1.07 trillion in current dollars.

But is it necessary to maintain that ratio of defense spending? As our technology and productivity improves, shouldn’t we expect to get a bigger bang from our defense dollar as we do from domestic programs? We can invest less as portion of the economy, but get smarter, better results than were possible half a century ago.

The President has called for a plan to cut the number of forces and procurement of programs in order to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over a ten year period. These reductions would be in addition to the military cuts mandated in last year’s deficit deal. Many are concerned that this will reduce our regular troop levels too far, especially given the extensive reliance on National Guard units that were deployed in Iraq and continue to be deployed in Afghanistan.

There is also concern as to how much of these savings will be used to reduce the deficit, and how much would be re-allocated to expand discretionary programs. After consecutive years of annual deficits exceeding $1 trillion, savings need to be found across the board. But despite the President’s vow to go line-by-line through the budget to cut out waste and duplication, taxpayers have not seen significant reductions in domestic program from this Administration. If last week’s State of the Union address was a preview of the forthcoming FY 2013 budget, we will see more of the same: NTU Foundation tallied up the cost of new proposals in the President’s speech and found that for every dollar in domestic spending that would be cut, defense spending would be cut by $128. And only lip-service was paid to confronting the fastest growing part of the budget: entitlements.

Over the ten years since FY 2001, defense spending rose by about $24 billion a year, in constant dollars. After major wars, such expenditures typically decline with a draw-down of forces. We are now having a national debate about the best way to proceed with reductions while maintaining a strong military. A complete picture of the budget figures needs to be a part of this discussion.

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Iran Threat Reduction Act - Taxpayer's Tab Supplement
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/13/12

This week's Taxpayer's Tab focused on H.R. 3638, Act for the 99%, which left us with some additional material that we're highlighting here. This week's "Most Friended" bill is H.R. 1905, the Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011.

Annualized Cost: $3 million ($13 million over five years)

Number of Cosponsors: 364 Congressmen

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) sponsored the Iran Threat Reduction Act to compel Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. In order to achieve that goal, H.R. 1905 would expand existing sanctions.

The bill calls for the President to coordinate with other nations to place additional pressure on Iran to give up it efforts to obtain or develop a nuclear weapon or systems that would deliver a nuclear bomb. The U.S. would lobby the United Nations Security Council to impose new sanctions and would work to limit to whom Iran could sell its petroleum products.

The President would also be authorized to impose sanctions on individuals or companies investing in, buying from, or selling Iranian petroleum. The trade of restricted nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction technologies is also prohibited. The U.S. would also reserve the right to cancel any transaction or transfer of goods, services, or money between Iran and anyone that is subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. Iranian assets would remain frozen.  Fewer Iranians would be granted visas to enter the U.S.  The sanctions would be terminated when, and if, it is verified that Iran is no longer perusing a nuclear weapon, supporting international terrorism, and “poses no threat to the national security, interests, or allies of the United States.”

Federal funds would also go toward supporting democratic change in Iran.  The Secretary of State would be required to develop a strategy of promoting Internet freedom and access to information in Iran.

According to a CBO estimate, H.R. 1905 would result in $13 million in new spending over the next five years. New regulations and financial tracking would lead to increased administrative expenses however, the sanctions would not result in any new spending or increased revenues.

Cosponsors include 148 Democrats and 216 Republicans in the House.

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Spending Smarter on Missile Defense
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 12/01/11

 

Admiral Mike Mullen, who recently completed a stint as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a thoughtful proponent of the connection between America’s economic security and its national security, often mentioning the national debt as the biggest threat to both and stressing the need to “steward every dollar that we have.” Mullen has retired, but the national debt sure hasn’t been, which means that “stewardship” is more important than ever. Earlier this week NTU weighed in with a letter to lawmakers on one such development our budget team came across – the Senate Appropriations Committee’s decision to shift tax dollars away from a missile defense project with uncertain prospects and toward ventures with greater near-term promise.

Much bigger brains than my own can delve into the technical details of the SM-3 missile, which is part of the anti-missile phase of the Navy’s Aegis air defense system. However, NTU’s four-decade institutional knowledge of federal contracting and project oversight tells us that the Senate Committee made the smart move.

SM-3 Blocks II-A and I-B, which the Committee chose to fund, have good potential for a solid capability to defeat several ballistic missile threats our nation may be encountering before Block II-B (the version the Committee directed funding away from) could be reliably tested and fielded. Plus, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, funding II-B might not pay off with a vastly better weapon in a predictable period of time -- potentially risking an all-too-familiar ascent into an alarming cost spiral. As the Committee noted, “the requirements for the SM-3 Block II-B remain in flux, as does its acquisition strategy and the associated costs for integration into the Fleet.”

NTU has communicated its views to Congress on a variety of  defense projects this year, including the F-35 alternate engine and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. In many cases, we’ve had to offer words of caution about Congress’s decisions.

But on SM-3, the Senate Committee is making the right call. As our letter to Appropriators in both chambers states, “the Senate Committee’s funding choice on SM-3 represents the best possible prioritization of resources based on prudent risk assessments, and [NTU] would urge that any conference agreement reflect this stance.”

We’ll be keeping a watchful eye and urging a steady hand as the appropriations process moves forward, to make sure the Senate’s position on SM-3 becomes law.

 

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Taxpayers Win in Pentagon Decision to Stop F-35 Engine
Posted By:  - 03/25/11

If cutting spending was the equivalent of the NCAA basketball tournament then the costly F-35 alternative engine program would be the ultimate Cinderella story. I’m not talking about the feel-good “small school taking on the big boys” type Cinderella, mind you, I’m talking about the “how in the world did they last this long with that kind of talent” type of Cinderella.

Fortunately for taxpayers, the F-35 Cinderella may have just been bounced from the competition to reduce our nation’s overspending problem. Having survived a White House veto, numerous congressional budget battles, and a bombardment of bills to defund the program, the Pentagon may have finally put an end to the alternative engine project.

Yesterday, the U.S. Defense Department issued a 90-day stop-work order to General Electric and Rolls-Royce, temporarily halting development of a second engine for the F-35. In a statement announcing the decision, the Pentagon called the program a “waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities.”

This should come as great news to taxpayers who have been shelling out nearly $1 million a day to fund an engine program that many in Congress don’t want and the Defense Department says it does not need. Given this year’s $1.65 trillion deficit it simply makes no fiscal or logistical sense to continue to fund two design teams, two supply chains, and two production sites for what is expected to be no performance gains. If made permanent, ending the alternative engine program could save taxpayers up to $3 billion over the next 5 years.

The National Taxpayers Union has long pushed for this result, arguing that although the added competition may have achieved marginal potential savings, it would have come with enormous upfront cost to taxpayers. More recently NTU supported an amendment to H.R. 1 that would have stripped funding for the F-35 alternative engine, saving taxpayers $450 million over the remainder of the fiscal year. Although the 90-day stoppage is by no means a lasting solution, it is a long overdue step towards fiscal sustainability.

Having now survived two successive Presidential administrations, both of which have tried to eliminate its funding, the alternative engine program is a testament to the durability of pork. Fortunately, it’s Cinderella run appears over and taxpayers are all the better because of it.  

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NTU Urges End to Funding for the Unwanted MEADS Air-Defense Missile Program
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 03/09/11

The National Taxpayers Union has sent Secretary of Defense Robert Gates a letter pushing for an end to the Medium Extended Air Defense System. The project has been a joint effort between Germany, Italy, and the United States.

The program has already been deemed unnecessary and will not be pursued to fruition. However, it is still on schedule for the next development stage, set to cost $804 million.

The threat of $1 billion in penalties for terminating development is being used as an excuse to continue spending on unneeded stages of development. This odd contracting arrangement has led to questioning by Congress. Even so, experts disagree on the total, some estimating the termination cost at less than $500 million. Irrespective of the exact figure, the tripartite-cost-sharing arrangement (the U.S. at 58%, Germany at 25%, and Italy at 17%) should insulate the U.S. from paying the full penalty.

To read the entire letter click HERE.

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Fair Tax Act, Gun Control Bill Highlighted in Latest Tab
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 02/24/11

Tab Insert

After our entitlement reform panel at CPAC and releasing our report on the President’s FY 2012 budget, NTUF has a new Taxpayer’s Tab with four newly scored bills. We’ve got a lot of research going on at the Foundation so be sure to keep up-to-date with @NTUF and be even more sure to support NTUF so we can get you the information you’ve come to expect!

One of the issues that have surfaced in the 112th Congress is tax reform. Many legislators are calling for tax simplification while others support a different stance: system replacement. The Fair Tax is one of those system alternatives that has gained more attention in the last few years. NTUF scored the Fair Tax Act at an $11 billion annualized savings. Check out the full Fair Tax description and how NTUF estimated the savings in the latest Tab edition.

Scored bills in Issue 6 of the Taxpayer’s Tab include:

  • HR 301, New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence
  • HR 25/S 13, Fair Tax Act of 2011
  • HR 308/S 32, Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act
  • HR 365, National Blue Alert Act of 2011
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