Congress oversteps role in military budget

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If too many cooks spoil the broth, then too many politicians endanger the effectiveness of the military.

In a nod more toward keeping lucrative defense contracts in their districts than in strengthening the military and national defense, Congress has fattened the defense budget to $528 billion, $1.7 billion more than President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requested.

The increased funding, in and of itself, may not necessarily be a bad thing. But instead of letting the Pentagon managing the budget to get the most bang for the buck, Congress insists on micromanaging every dollar instead of simply doing its job of setting policy.

Congress decided to force the military to spend its funds on, for example, the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, upgrades for tanks and funds for armored vehicles.

The problem is the military doesn’t want those things, can’t use them and doesn’t appreciate being saddled with these thinly disguised cash cows to fatten the wallets in the district of some members of Congress.

“Aircraft, ships, tanks, bases, even those that have outlived their usefulness, have a natural political constituency. Readiness does not,” Panetta said in a speech. “What’s more, readiness is too often sacrificed in favor of a larger and less effective force. I am determined to avoid that outcome.”

It is not the role of Congress to determine what weapons to buy, where bases are needed or whether the Pentagon can or cannot purchase alternative fuels. Congress should decide how much money is needed to protect this country and to keep the military in the necessary state of readiness.

Once a dollar figure is put to that task, the budget should be turned over to the Defense Department to decide how to achieve those things.

Politicians can’t seem to stop themselves from acting like department secretaries. They take the decisions out of the hands of those who are most knowledgeable about the situation and substitute their own reasoning. Unfortunately, they don’t have the necessary expertise and their reasoning is based more on “bringing home the bacon” rather than safeguarding the country and the troops who protect it.

Congress needs to allocate the money and hold the Defense Department accountable for its spending to avoid the horror stories of $900 hammers. But it has no more business deciding what weapons to buy than it does designing battle plans such as Desert Storm, Desert Shield or the D-Day invasion.

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