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After calling two staffers on Capitol Hill and numerous bureaucrats at the United Nations’ headquarters, you would figure I would have a better idea of United Nations’ conference budgets. My first three calls and emails went to Legislative Assistants and Foreign Relations Committee staffers, ranging over almost six months. I was researching the amount the US could potentially save by prohibiting funding of the Durban II Conference in South Africa. The Conference got a lot of attention because it was a follow-up to the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
After 6 months of silence from Foreign Relations Committee staff and more Googling than I hope ever to do, I changed gears and called the United Nations directly. This also proved to be a grinding affair wrought with more transferred phone calls than the comparatively efficient silence from the Hill. In the last month, I have spoken to UN workers in 7 different divisions, ranging from their General Information Division, who had no information to give, to the United Nations Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions and the Department of Conference Management’s Conference Services. All-in-all, the UN is impressive with its lack of cohesion and transparency.
On my final call, made this afternoon with a member of the conference management staff, I learned about half of what I set out to learn, eight months ago: The Durban II Conference was a hosted conference, all of which are principally paid by the host country with incidental costs paid out of the UN General Fund. So the majority of the Durban II costs would be paid out of South Africa’s pocket. If the conference was more general, the United Nations would pick up the tab, paid for by the UN General Fund. Member nations contribute to the fund based on economic indicators with the US paying $598 million in 2009.
No actual numbers were available as either the staffer was under no obligation to make them public (which he mentioned) and/or unified budgets of UN conferences do not exist (quite possible). When I asked why the staffer would not release the numbers, he asked if I was trying to find out how much the US paid. “Oh, you’re one of those,” was his response. The conversation ended quickly thereafter.
My search ended there because NTU Foundation’s BillTally Project does not pertain to already appropriated spending.
The United Nations was created to help prevent conflict and to serve as a development force for the “Third World.” These goals are accomplished largely through conferences where diplomats and leaders can come together. Yet an organization that can’t keep an eye on its check book, let alone a taxpayer-funded group that feels something as basic as conference budgets are not fit for public consumption, is bound to fail. According to the UN’s website, “It’s your world.” I would add, it’s also your money.1 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
As the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) continues through its extended developmental phase, the F-35 Alternate Engine Project once again is in the spotlight. The competition was initiated to produce the best power plant for the new plane. General Electric is still creating its version and sees a future where the F-35 has two engines to choose from. Some Congressional Members, more concerned with pork than defense, agree. The original engine company (Pratt & Whitney) and the Department of Defense are defending a single engine system – not just because it was a parameter of the competition but a practical military logistical detail.
Costs have become a chief concern even in the deficit-prone defense-sector. GE has offered a fixed-price deal to the Pentagon, citing the competition could lower costs by $20 billion over the jet's lifespan. Pratt & Whitney has already offered a fixed-price contract, which would leave excess cost with the manufacturer rather than the American taxpayer. The catch in this competition comes with differing timelines. GE requires $485 million to maintain its development program while P&W has completed its engine. GE claims the competition brings about lower long-term prices and higher quality. However, justifications go only as far as the bank. Further upfront GE costs will equal $2.9 billion and will save $1 billion over the next five years. There is little to no difference in performance in either engine.
Although competition is key to innovation, there comes a time to decide on one engine for America's next-generation air superiority craft. P&W have already developed and integrated their engine into the F-35 framework. They have also offered guarantees against cost overruns in a fully binding agreement. GE must accept its loss and cease spending millions ($25.5 million so far) on lobbying Congress for a piece of equipment the military does not need. Secretary of Defense recently said, "Study on top of study has shown that an extra [F-35] fighter engine achieves marginal potential savings but heavy upfront costs – nearly $3 billion worth." Hopefully members of Congress will resolve this issue for our service members in time to honor their sacrifice on Armed Forces Day this Saturday.6 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
With the Obama Administration committing itself to greater international nuclear non-proliferation, Secretary of State Clinton spoke before the United Nations General Assembly releasing the exact number of US nuclear warheads - 5,113 - both in active service and storage. Citing a "goal of a safer world," Clinton wished to show other nations participating in the nuclear nonproliferation regime that the US is willing to prevent dangerous material getting into the wrong hands and to promote greater transparency of stockpiles for better understanding.
However, publishing the total number of warheads does not spell transparency for the American taxpayer. Much of the nuclear weapons budget lives in the dark. A Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study postulates that the US spends at least $52.8 billion per year. Around 55% ($29.1 billion) is dedicated to operation, upgrades, and sustaining the platform and approximately 15.8% ($8.3 billion) is spent on environmental and health costs. However, this is just an estimate as the total budget remains classified.
A total inventory of 5,113 nukes reflects a 17,104 reduction since 1991 – a 90% drop. According to a Brookings Institution fact sheet, the US spent an average of $70,000 in 1998 (around $97,000 in 2010 dollars) on dismantling one nuclear warhead. Taking the 17,000 warheads decommissioned in today's dollars, the US has spent at least $1.66 billion since the end of the Cold War. Unless more budgetary disclosures occur, both deficit hawks and disarmament proponents suffer from a lack of accurate information from an administration claiming its transparency.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) convened a hearing to specifically address development issues regarding the F-35’s costs and timeline to military service. Being the largest military acquisition program in history, currently projected to cost at least $300 billion (although a more exact cost estimate was not produced during the hearings), the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project has been suffering development problems for at least the last two years. Ranking member McCain and Chairman Levin decided to bring in DoD procurement and cost officials to explore the delays and pending cost increases for America’s newest air superiority aircraft.
Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Aston Carter broke the JSF’s service life into 3 stages: Development, Ramp up to Production, and Full Production.
The debate centered on the development phase, which was initially changed to be 30 months longer than originally planned but later, with a new production plan in place, has shrunk to 13 months. The time gap was filled with more test aircraft produced and by adding a more dedicated software integration program. The overall number of planes ordered has remained the same at 2,852 (all three variants included) but delivery will be delayed on the initial service craft, 122 planes between FY 2011 and 2015.
300 JSF’s are to be produced for testing purposes with $50 billion set aside for System Development and Demonstration (SDD). DoD Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Director Christine Fox cited a $2.8 billion in increased development funds. Hopefully, this will improve the lagging test sorties, of which only 10% have been completed thus far.
Ramp up to Production
Many of the issues facing Congressional leaders, concerned with cost overruns, and military planners, worried about a Fighter Shortfall, point to military contractors as a source of the F-35’s woes. The bidding system in place was not law by the time the JSF program was running. Many of the cost estimates and accountability measures are either based off the old system or being caught up at a delayed pace. Senator McCaskill went so far to ask for specific individuals to blame for the delays. The only individual mentioned was the fired Major who ran the program until earlier this year.
Even with the delays and finger pointing, Carter gave a basic time-line for the JSF. 2011 would see both Marine vertical take-off and hardened Navy version testing and the first training squadron’s creation. In 2012, the Marines plan to have enough F-35’s to reach Initial Operational Capacity (IOC) and the Navy and Air Force will reach their IOC’s in 2016.
The dates for deployment remain unchanged as testing continues. Carter explained the lower number of planes produced initially will save taxpayers money because if flaws are found in the first line, the costly errors will be fixed on fewer planes instead of on entire squadrons.
Aircraft production prices usually have a steep initial cost but as more planes stream through the production line, the costs begin to decrease. Spending will then change emphasis from production to maintaining the fleet once enough fighters are in service. Michael Sullivan of the Government Accountability Office cited maintenance hours ranging around 2.5 million hours to create and produce a modern attack aircraft – more than doubling a 2001 number of 1 million hours to achieve the same feat.
According to Fox, the F-35 was estimated to cost at $50.2 million in 2001, $69.2 million in 2007, and currently $80-95 million (all in 2002 dollars) per aircraft. In other words, if the F-35’s were rolling off the assembly line today, they’d have a price tag of $112 million each (assuming everything goes according to plan). Taxpayers would be paying about $319 billion for all 2,852 F-35’s in today’s dollars.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts
A low-power laser mounted on a modified Boeing 747 has accomplished its goal of destroying a launched missile in its boost phase. While impressive, perhaps amazing, we need to ask those questions big spenders hate to hear: How much has it cost? How will this help? What's its future worth?
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 relatively 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.0 Comments | Post a Comment | Sign up for NTU Action Alerts