Priority-setting already is an area of weakness for DOD. Yet to the extent that DOD is able to set priorities and limit spending, the unfunded requirements conversation undercuts those decisions, loosens the remaining spending restraints, and challenges the Secretary’s authority within the organization.
Secretary Gates, however, is pushing back. Instead of permitting his service chiefs to submit their unfunded requirements lists directly to Congress as had been the tradition, last year (FY10) Gates informed them that he would review the lists beforehand. Going behind his back would no longer be tolerated.
"Should you determine there are FY 2010 unfunded requirements that are responsive to the request from Congress,” Gates commented, “I expect you to first inform me of such a determination so we can schedule the opportunity for you to brief me on the details.”
The result was a new dose of restraint. ‘Unfunded requirements’ fell from $33.3 billion in FY08, Gates’ first budget submission, to $2.6 billion this year. Most dramatically, the Air Force fell into proportion with the other services in FY11 after representing 51% of unfunded requirements in FY08 and 61% in FY09.
Even at reduced spending levels, though, items in these lists are ‘requirements’ in name only. Each one has received the Secretary’s veto, a testament to their actual character: wish lists for the Services and a political football for Congress. Indeed, this character is rather transparent. Any item unfunded by the Secretary but required immediately (e.g., in an already-submitted budget) ought to have an urgent impact on real-time operations – yet much of the FY11 lists do not. A few examples include:
- The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps listed $928.2 million in unfunded procurement and sustainment costs for aircraft ($337.2M, $423M, and $168M respectively). Procurements are focused on Marine Corps lift: one KC-130J, three UC-12Ws, and two UC-35ERs. Yet even on the most aggressive procurement schedule, these aircraft cannot have a real-time impact. Sustainment costs are distributed between the Navy and Air Force and include maintenance for B-1 and B-2 strategic bombers and the V-22 Osprey. Strategic strike, however, plays a minimal role in Afghanistan, while the more tactically-oriented V-22 has only been deployed in Afghanistan for six months.
- The Army listed a $133.6M unfunded requirement for Patriot missiles, a component of theater defense against tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft – none of which are part of operations in Afghanistan.
The unfunded requirements exercise is a misnomer, and one that supports nothing more than the Services’ spending habit and Congress’ tallying of political points. It additionally undermines the Secretary’s command over the military and credibility when imposing fiscal discipline. This is all cost and no benefit. Secretary Gates rightly has pressed hard on this practice, and must press even harder so as to bring this it to an end.
Unfunded Requirements Lists