|America's independent, non-partisan advocate for overburdened taxpayers.||Home | Donate | RSS | Log in|
Protect Taxpayers, Oppose the Administration’s Fiscally Unsound Funding Shift for Missile Defense!
An Open Letter to Congress:
April 23, 2012
Dear Member of Congress:
We the undersigned organizations, representing hundreds of thousands of Americans dedicated to fiscal responsibility, urge you to reject the Administration’s proposal to shift federal budget resources away from proven missile defense systems and toward more tenuous concepts with less certain costs. Taxpayers expect and deserve better value for the money they send to Washington.
After a technologically challenging design phase, the SM-3 Block I-B has emerged to provide many dividends for the Aegis defensive system, including a substantial operational anti-missile capability. This welcome development has earned praise from current and former defense leaders with a deep knowledge of ballistic missile threats, including Retired Vice Admiral J.D. Williams, a former Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Naval Warfare.
Given this success, as well as the particularly dire need to provide discipline for the defense budget, it was entirely logical that last year Congress made the decision to concentrate Fiscal Year 2012 funding on SM-3 Blocks I-B and II-A instead of pouring more dollars into the very loosely defined II-B.
We are therefore all the more disappointed that the White House would, through the Fiscal Year 2013 budget for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), take away nearly $300 million from the I-B missile initiative in order to sharply boost funding for the speculative II-B program. This move ignores the bipartisan message sent by Congress last year and unnecessarily exposes taxpayers to a potentially unstable cost spiral.
While we do not pretend to offer you expertise in aerospace engineering or perfect insight into missile defense strategy, we can point to Members of Congress who have expressed similar misgivings. House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner recently told MDA Director Patrick O’Reilly that the Subcommittee is concerned “we may be throwing paper wads of designs of SM-3 II-Bs rather than throwing actual interceptors that could make a difference for the defense of our nation.” In the same March 2012 hearing, Chairman Turner referred to SM-3 II-B as a “next decade development.”
Such comments tell those of us with hard-earned experience in military procurement issues that the Administration’s move to continue funneling money into II-B is not prudent. 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. Sadly, the examples are too numerous to list here.
One reason why many of these undertakings have frustrated defense planners and taxpayers alike is the institutional inertia of the budget process, which allows underperforming programs to sap the Treasury long beyond the point where the government should have cut its losses. Another is the budget process’s tendency to scatter funding across many programs, even ones with ill-defined benefits, simply to soothe political tensions and “grease the skids” for passage of complex legislation.
We understand that with MDA’s budget request, it would be easier for Congress to succumb once again to this “go along, get along” temptation and borrow more dollars from future taxpayers out of political expediency. Yet, acquiescing to the Administration’s request to drain funds from a program some lawmakers view as the centerpiece of homeland defense against a long-range nuclear attack may ultimately be just as unsound. Highly risky ventures like Block II-B 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.
Advocates for the Administration’s stance would say that these risks with II-B are either overstated or are worth the possibly tremendous gain to our defensive capacities. Yet, what of the risks inherent in building fewer I-B missiles, which can be fielded by 2015? What of the risks in diverting money to a drawing-board system (II-B) that may not have a working prototype within this decade, even as real threats from ballistic missiles are emerging? What of the risks in failing to better prioritize federal programs and regain control over budget deficits? As former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen stated, the federal debt is a grave danger to America’s national security and the need to “steward every dollar that we have” has never been more urgent.
Last year, when Senate Appropriations Committee Members opted to focus precious tax dollars on Block I-B, their legislative report noted:
[N]ear-term requirements are underappreciated in order to fund uncertain long-term efforts. In addition, the Committee notes that 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. Finally, the Committee understands that in its current form, the SM-3 Block II-B missile is of limited mission value due to technical constraints.
We agree with this wise course, and hope that you will choose to keep moving the nation’s defense policy in this direction now, by opposing the White House’s untenable SM-3 budget plan.
David A. Ridenour