Defense supplemental request overstated by $5.2 billion
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The Trump administration wants Congress to add $30 billion to its fiscal 2017 Defense spending bill, but about $5.2 billion of the proposed addition is already in the bill, according to a Senate committee.
CQ Roll Call disclosed on March 20 that the administration’s $30 billion supplemental request for the Pentagon contained more than $3 billion in ship and aircraft programs that were already in the House-Senate agreement that the House passed earlier this month and that awaits Senate action.
A Senate Appropriations Committee aide confirmed for CQ Roll Call on March 24 that the total amount in military procurement programs that the White House wants added to the bill — even though it is already there — is $3.3 billion.
What’s more, the aide said, the administration has sought another $2 billion or so that Congress is already poised to provide. Included there is an addition of $1.6 billion to cover hiring of more U.S. military personnel than President Barack Obama had sought, plus another $285 million to cover a higher pay raise than he had wanted.
Those two parcels of money were needed in the appropriations measure because the increases in people and pay are mandated by the fiscal 2017 defense authorization law, which was enacted in December.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, had noted the $5 billion overstatement in the request during a March 22 hearing.
“Congress has already addressed $5 billion of the requested funds in the pending defense appropriations bill,” Durbin said in his opening statement.
But apart from CQ’s earlier report on the duplicative procurement request, the full breakdown of that $5 billion overstatement has not been previously disclosed.
It is unusual, to say the least, for an administration to ask Congress to add funds to a bill when the money is already in the bill. The administration had two weeks to make note of the redundancies — the period between the disclosure of the spending bill’s contents and the submission of the supplemental on March 16.
Officials with the Defense Department comptroller’s office have said they are working with appropriators to “deconflict” the request and the bill.
If administration officials in the Pentagon or White House were aware that their supplemental request was excessive before or during its release, they did not let on publicly.
In events unveiling the $30 billion request on March 16, officials did not disclose that more than one-sixth of it would not need to be added to the pending bill. In fact, they called attention to the need to cover higher troop numbers, a bigger pay raise and boosts to certain weapons orders — all of which are in the bill.
“Our request to Congress is that they pass a full-year defense appropriations bill and that bill include these additional appropriations,” said John Roth, who is serving as Defense Department comptroller, at a March 16 press briefing at the Pentagon.
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