House committee questions Defense and Homeland Security officials about costs

Pentagon comptroller Robert F. Hale. (Chad McNeeley/Defense Department)
Pentagon comptroller Robert F. Hale (Chad McNeeley/Defense Department)

House lawmakers questioned Defense and Homeland Security officials Tuesday about their agency’s efforts to contain costs during a hearing on inspector general recommendations.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee questioned why the Department of Homeland Security had not done more to reduce costs leading up to the sequester deadline  March 1.

Homeland Security Undersecretary of Management Rafael Borras answered that the administration did not expect the automatic cuts to take effect.

Issa argued that agencies should have prepared for deep cuts either way, because the only way to avoid the sequester would have been for lawmakers to agree to comparable reductions.

Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked Borras whether he could justify comments from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who said  March 4 that lines had already doubled at major airports such as Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare and Hartfield-Jackson in Atlanta.

Officials from those airports said they were not experiencing unusual delays that day, according to a report in the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper.

Borras told the committee on Tuesday that he was “not aware that we’ve had any doubling of wait times at airports across the country.” But he also said that cutbacks in overtime had “resulted in some additional wait time.”

DHS clarified last week that Napolitano had been talking specifically about customs lines, not regular security lines. Customs and Border Protection, a division of Homeland Security, has reduced overtime as a result of the sequester, which means some airports may have fewer agents than usual at a given time.

As for defense, the department’s deputy inspector general, Lynne M. Halbrooks, said the Pentagon could greatly reduce its costs by reviewing major weapons systems that are over budget and behind schedule and by stopping acquisition of spare parts that the military already possesses in its inventory.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) voiced concern about the the Pentagon’s development of the F-35  Joint Strike Fighter, a program that has avoided budget cuts while growing vastly beyond its initial cost estimates.

The congressman noted that the Navy’s version of the jet still cannot land on aircraft carriers. He asked rhetorically: “Is the government getting what it paid for?”

The House committee will hold a separate hearing  Tuesday to examine how agencies are making decisions to meet their reduction targets under the sequester.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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