A California lawmaker will move to require the services to prepare "wish lists" of unfunded priorities each year to be delivered to Congress no later than one month after release of the formal Defense Department budget.
The effort comes after the service chiefs declined to send unfounded priority lists to Congress this year, marking the first time since 1985 that this additional information was not provided.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran serving on the House Armed Services Committee, has drafted an amendment to the 2013 defense authorization bill requiring the service chiefs and National Guard Bureau chief to provide a list of unbudgeted priorities to Congress by no later than 30 days after the federal budget is submitted to Congress.
Thirty days would be soon enough for lawmakers to consider the wish list as they prepare the annual defense authorization and appropriations bills, and decide how much money to allocate to defense programs.
Hunter also has prepared an amendment limiting the retirement of National Guard aircraft, a sore topic for states that could lose aircraft and personnel, under a Pentagon-proposed realignment. It would apply to Air Guard and Army Guard fixed-wing aircraft, requiring full analysis of the effects on local communities and the consideration of alternatives.
Amendments to the defense bill will be offered in subcommittees this week and before the full House Armed Services Committee on May 9.
Wish lists guide lawmakers about how to allocate any additional money that might become available during the process of writing the annual defense authorization and appropriations bills. By funding items on the priority lists, lawmakers can avoid criticism about adding money for pet projects, even if the extra spending eventually helps businesses or installations in their congressional districts.
Unfunded priority lists have become a staple of the budgeting process, surviving Democrat and Republican administrations, despite complaints from White House and senior Pentagon officials that the services were circumventing official channels.
Lists also have been a burr in the saddle of the sitting administration because they provide a handy list of projects that opponents can use to claim national security interests are being ignored. Last year, for example, the services came up with a combined $3.5 billion in items they had to leave out of the budget because there wasn't enough money. In 2011, the wish lists totaled $5.3 billion.
House Republicans, who have approved a 2013 federal budget that allocates $8 billion more to defense programs than requested by the Obama administration, have been anxious to pin the services down on exactly what priorities the Defense Department couldn't fund because of the cuts. The service chiefs, so far, have refused to provide a list, in part because the $525.4 billion base defense budget requested by the administration is the amount set last year under an agreement reached between Congress and the White House, with the spending caps written into the Budget Control Act of 2011 that was signed into law in November.
"Budget priorities come in difference shapes and sizes, and while the identified priorities that actually reach Congress are typically in good standing, other priorities do get pushed to the back," said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper. "Knowing exactly what these requirements are gives Congress an added advantage in the budget process, especially when it comes to gauging effectiveness and risk."
By not providing list this year, the service chiefs are sending a message that their priorities are being fulfilled, Kasper said. "We all know that's not the case."