Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) started the hearing off, however, by criticizing Congress for providing “the government with precious little certainty about future funding, which has caused untold amounts of scrapped planning, administrative double work and waste.”
He described the sequester as creating “budgetary instability that is causing well-performing programs to be cut, program officials to be furloughed and readiness accounts to be plundered.”
He was just as tough on the Pentagon, referring to “systematic departmental shortcomings which contribute to a ‘culture of inefficiency’ that is robbing war fighters of reliable equipment and absolutely failing taxpayers.”
No one is as good as McCain when he’s warmed up on Pentagon spending.
“After more than a decade of profligate spending and lax internal oversight, senior defense leaders must now impel cultural change throughout the department regarding procurement practices, financial improvement and business transformation,” he said last Thursday.
He cited costs of constructing the new CVN-78, the $12.8 billion USS Gerald R. Ford nuclear aircraft carrier and the Littoral Combat Ships, now $448 million each, as “only the most recent examples of programs that have been undertaken without regard for affordability or for what our combatant commanders and service members actually need.”
In an era of declining budgets, McCain said, “We simply cannot afford to pour treasure into programs that underperform, deliver unreliable capability or for which we are unable to determine lifecycle costs.” He finished by adding that “cost estimates prepared by the [military] services for major weapon systems have historically proved inaccurate.”
There is plenty of blame to pass around for today’s fiscal cliff and for yesterday’s Pentagon excesses. The real question is whether this latest crisis has forced enough people in Congress and the executive branch to settle down and work out their differences so Defense budget planners can get to work.
The public at large is watching — and yet another clock will begin ticking once President Obama signs whatever measure reaches his desk.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.