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An Open Letter to Defense Authorization Bill Conferees: Support Provisions that Promote Accountability and Transparency
September 8, 2006
As the Conference Committee on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) convenes, House and Senate Members have before them a number of measures that could improve transparency and accountability. As such, the 350,000 members of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) urge you to craft Conference legislation that will reflect the entirety of funding within the normal appropriations process, improve disclosure of earmarks and contracts, and strengthen whistleblower protections. Our members hope that you will consider the following specific recommendations during your deliberations:
Include funding of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in the normal appropriations process. After more than four years of operations in Afghanistan and three years in Iraq, it is no longer a necessity to continue funding them through emergency supplemental appropriations. Such appropriations were intended to fund unforeseeable emergencies and, as such, are "off the books." It is unfair to keep taxpayers guessing about how (and how many of) their dollars will be spent. Amendment 4242 to S. 2766, proposed by Senator McCain, would direct the President to request, estimate, and justify all such funds in his annual budget beginning in FY 2008. We urge conferees to maintain this provision in the conference legislation.
Account for all taxpayer funds given to the United Nations. Despite providing between 25 and 30 percent of the UN's funding, American taxpayers do not have a full accounting of their contributions. While many State Department functions related to the UN are visible in the annual budget, other costs (such as those incurred through the Department of Agriculture) are more difficult to discern. A report from the Office of Management and Budget stated that the United States government spent about $5.3 billion on UN-related items last year alone. Amendment 4495 to S. 2766, introduced by Senator Warner, would instruct the President to produce an annual report detailing the entirety of the previous year's UN funding. NTU feels that American taxpayers deserve to know the full scope of the UN activities they are underwriting.
Create an "earmark report card." Every year, the defense bill is packed full of earmarks that don't advance the goals of the Department or, in some cases, even relate to defense. While no federal legislation should serve as a platform for wasted tax dollars, the NDAA is a particularly inappropriate place for failed programs, obsolete technologies, or pet projects. Amendment 4370 to S. 2766, proposed by Senator Coburn, would direct the Department of Defense to create a "report card" for all earmarks found in the authorization bill. The report card would list the cost of the earmark, a detailed description, and a grade corresponding to its ability to advance goals of the Department of Defense. Our members believe that such a list would bring much-needed scrutiny to the earmarking process in an area where prioritizing spending is extremely important.
Reform the way incentives are awarded for defense contracts. Many defense contracts are laden with bonus pay clauses intended to reward high-quality, timely work. Though conceptually advisable, these arrangements have often failed in practice. Bonus pay, intended for outstanding work, is often granted without regard to performance, in direct contravention of the intent of the clauses. Amendment 4371 to S. 2766, introduced by Senator Coburn, would raise the bar for performance bonuses. NTU believes that elevating the requirements will ensure that extra taxpayer dollars only go to the contractors who provide excellent, prompt service.
Strengthen whistleblower protections. The last decade has seen a steady erosion of protections for whistleblowers that identify wrongdoing. Hostile rulings in administrative and court proceedings have exposed whistleblowers to tremendous risks of reprisal from superiors. Amendment 4351 to S. 2766, sponsored by Senators Akaka, Collins, Grassley, Durbin, Levin, and Lieberman, would permit federal employees to claim whistleblower protection for any disclosure of wrongdoing. NTU feels strongly that our laws must protect those who protect taxpayers. Civil servants who identify waste, fraud, and abuse should be shielded from sanctions.
NTU believes that transparency and spending discipline should start with the largest share of the federal budget, national defense. By incorporating the aforementioned provisions in your Conference legislation, you can take the first of many steps needed to rein in the federal budget and protect taxpayers' wallets. We look forward to a bill that authorizes all defense funding, improves the disclosure and operation of earmarks and contracts, and shores up whistleblower protections. Thank you for your consideration.