Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said he would support removing a congressional authorization that requires senior military leaders to annually provide Congress with their unfunded priorities lists (UPLs) and suggested that they are linked more to the needs of regional commanders rather than global defense priorities.

Austin was responding to a line of questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who said the defense “wish lists…distort our budget process” and that the UPL requests are often repeated each year, suggesting that if they are vital, they would have been baked into the base budget request.

Austin was testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to review the Defense Department’s $842 billion fiscal year 2024 budget request. Around 2010, Austin commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and later headed U.S. Central Command, overseeing all military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Warren highlighted that when Robert Gates was secretary of defense, which was between 2006 and 2011, he cut the submitted UPLs by 90 percent, including during the Obama administration’s troop surge to Afghanistan between 2010 and 2012. She asked Austin if U.S. national security suffered due to the UPL reductions.

Austin replied that based on congressional support for operating needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, “we had what we needed to be able to prosecute our operations. And so, we didn’t want for much of anything.”

Congress has directed the submission of UPLs since 2017. Before that, Congress had only requested them.

Warren on Tuesday released a March 20 letter from Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord stating that the base defense budget “represents the Department’s highest priorities.” He also said that Austin reviews the UPLs but “that process does not effectively address the underlying issue of requiring individual leaders to submit proposals with no necessary connection to the Secretary’s global priorities.”

McCord also wrote that DoD supports Warren’s proposal to “repeal” the statutory UPL requirement.

McCord’s letter was in response to letters Warren and several colleagues, including Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Angus King (I/D-Me.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), wrote DoD in December and again in January on the UPL mandate.

Warren said in a statement that the UPLs “don’t come with long-term cost estimates, harming oversight and making it difficult for taxpayers to know if their dollars are being used responsibly.” She said the lists are used by DoD to “game the system and increase its budget.”

In FY ’23, the DoD UPLs added up to $25 billion, including $19.3 billion for inflation, she said.