A powerful senator said he will greatly curtail the Pentagon’s budgeting flexibility by denying many future requests from the military to shift money in its coffers to start new programs.
Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared in a March 9 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta he will no longer approve the Pentagon’s reprogramming requests for so-called new-start programs that aren’t battlefield emergencies.
Eight lawmakers–the Democratic and Republican heads of the SASC, Senate Appropriations Committee, House Armed Services Committee, and House Appropriations Committee–decide whether to approve or deny the sundry reprogramming requests the Pentagon sends them throughout each fiscal year. If one of the panels denies a reprogramming, it is rejected.
Some reprogramming requests boost funding in existing Pentagon accounts while making corresponding reductions elsewhere in the budget, while other requests–those McCain disapproves of—seek to create whole new programs without congressional oversight.
“The reprogramming process that allows only eight members of Congress to approve funding for new, unauthorized programs violates the traditional authorization and appropriation process,” McCain wrote to Panetta. “I will not support any further reprogramming request for new, unauthorized programs except for emergency requirements.”
McCain lamented that in the two months since the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill became law, the Pentagon had sent lawmakers seven requests to transfer more than $850 million among its accounts. Those requests seek to shift $144 million for unauthorized new-start programs. McCain further noted the FY ’11 Pentagon reprogrammings totaled as much as $15 billion.
He told Panetta he will not approve future reprogramming requests of any variety until the Pentagon provides “a detailed accounting of each amount” reprogrammed in FY ’10 and FY ’11, including a list of all unauthorized new-start programs funded.
The eight lawmakers who decided whether to approve reprogramming requests often deny proposals for new-start programs. McCain is not alone in grumbling about the seemingly increased amount of reprogramming requests coming from the Pentagon. House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman C.W. “Bill” Young (R-Fla.) sent the Pentagon a letter in February criticizing the practice.