John M. Donnelly

Obscure Pentagon Fund Nets $2B, Sets Pork Senses Tingling
Program prompts complaints of ‘jurassic pork’ as some see earmarks by another name

The Pentagon will soon have received about $2.3 billion in the last nine years — money the military never requested — for a special fund intended to help replace earmarks after Congress banned them, our analysis shows.

Buried deep inside the $674.4 billion Defense spending measure for fiscal 2019 that the Senate is expected to vote on this week is a chart with one line showing a $250 million appropriation for the Defense Rapid Innovation Fund, the latest installment of sizable funding for a largely unknown program that quietly disburses scores of contracts every year.

Members Find Billions Beneath Pentagon Couch Cushions
Vague explanations offered for cuts: ‘historical unobligated balances’ and ‘revised estimate’

The authors of a new Defense spending conference report ran a victory lap last week to tout the billions of dollars they added to the U.S. military budget, but they hardly mentioned the cuts they had to make to pull that off.

Members generally prefer to tout the “winners” in their bills, not so much the “losers.” That habit can obscure the hard work appropriators and their staffs do to wring savings out of the Pentagon and intelligence agency budgets, even when the total funding is an epic $674.4 billion, as it will be in fiscal 2019. 

Spending Splurge
CQ Budget Podcast, Episode 78

House and Senate lawmakers made a deal to give the Pentagon a huge spending boost and defy President Donald Trump's call to cut various health, education and labor programs. CQ Defense reporter John M. Donnelly and Health reporter Andrew Siddons unpack the mammoth spending package now making its way through Congress.

Show Notes:

Pentagon Still Faces Possible CR, Even Government Shutdown
Congress may be moving faster than usual this year on spending bills, but no one should be celebrating yet

The Defense Department stands a 50-50 chance of operating under the constraints of a continuing resolution for at least the first couple months of fiscal 2019 and quite possibly beyond, a number of Washington insiders predict.

What’s more, analysts and lobbyists say, one or more government shutdowns are not out of the question.

Pentagon Will Miss John McCain, Its Friend and Foe
Arizona Republican brought unique background to oversight role

ANALYSIS | To the Pentagon, its contractors and allies on the congressional defense committees — the so-called iron triangle — John McCain could be either the U.S. military’s strongest proponent or its harshest critic.

It is clear to the members of the triangle that they will miss the friend they had in the hawkish McCain. They may not fully appreciate, however, how much they will miss the enemy, too.

Brennan Fracas Could Rip Through Senate’s Defense Spending Debate
Security clearances, abortion among amendment topics floated

The Senate is ready to start voting on amendments to the fiscal 2019 Defense spending bill, possibly including several that could stir spirited debate.

Senators have only agreed so far to vote on two relatively uncontroversial amendments to the the two-bill package that includes both the $675 billion Defense bill and the $179.3 billion Labor-HHS-Education measure. Those first two votes are scheduled for Monday evening.

Space Force Could Be Compromised From the Get-Go, Watchdog Warns
Malicious actors could take advantage of Air Force’s laxity, according to report

The Air Force is not adequately monitoring the pedigree of parts that go into critical space systems, and they are consequently at risk of being compromised by America’s enemies, according to a Pentagon inspector general report released Thursday.

It was the second of four audits that Congress has ordered on the subject, and the results so far indicate a systemic failure to safeguard what goes into U.S. weapons and satellites.

GOP Congress Tries to Rein In Trump on Foreign Policy
From the Koreas to Russia, president’s own party works to pre-empt him on multiple fronts

The Republican-led Congress is increasingly writing and occasionally passing legislation to prevent President Donald Trump from taking what members believe would be ill-advised actions abroad.

The bills are few in number so far, and mostly subtle in effect. But they show how even members of Trump’s own party are restive about the commander in chief’s intentions and want to pre-empt him on multiple fronts.

A GOP Congress Tries to Limit Its Republican President on Foreign Policy: Podcast
CQ on Congress, Episode 114

Lawmakers seem to be finally feeling their checks-and-balances oats. Members of both the House and Senate, from both parties, have begun passing legislation that could curb the foreign policy impulses of this impulsive president.  ...
NDAA Races Through Congress at Historic Pace
Only twice in the last 33 years has the defense authorization wrapped before Oct. 1

Advancing a defense authorization bill was as painless this year as it has been in decades, according to the people who wrote the measure.

The House adopted the fiscal 2019 NDAA conference report in a lopsided 359-54 vote on Thursday just before that chamber’s members left town for the August recess.

Senate to Weigh Large Cuts to Military Aid
Cuts target foreign militaries and militias trained to fight terrorists on U.S. behalf

The Senate will soon take up a Defense spending bill that would cut nearly $2.5 billion in military aid to foreign fighting forces, an unusually large budget subtraction some say reflects a fundamental change in lawmakers’ security priorities. 

At issue is the $675 billion fiscal 2019 Defense money bill, which Senate Appropriations approved late last month and which the chamber may take up later this month. 

US Spending Less to Secure World’s Nuclear Bomb Materials
Slowdown in nonproliferation spending contrasts with nuclear weapons upgrade

Terrorists are avowedly trying to build nuclear bombs, but U.S. spending to safeguard the world’s atomic materials has dipped in recent years — and President Donald Trump plans to keep it that way, according to budget documents, independent experts and lawmakers.

An Energy-Water spending bill passed last week by the Senate in a package with two other spending measures proposes a slight increase for nuclear security programs. But it would still leave the budget for those efforts far below what it was just a few years ago.

Analysis: Which Russia Policy Will Trump Bring to Helsinki?
President’s conciliatory tone toward Moscow contrasts with administration’s occasional hard line

As President Donald Trump prepares to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland next month, some observers are wondering which U.S. policy will have the upper hand: the appeasement policy of Donald Trump, or the confrontational policy of the Trump administration.

Trump himself has been almost entirely conciliatory toward Russia and Putin, and the U.S. president has often been scathingly critical of America’s traditional allies.

Defense Bills Seek to Protect U.S. Energy at Base in Germany
Critics slam return of ‘zombie earmark’ as Bacon says proposal will reduce reliance on Russian gas

The Other North Korean Threat: Chemical and Biological Weapons
Pentagon acknowledges armed forces are not ready

Now that the Singapore summit of President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un is in the rearview mirror, major questions remain, particularly about the part of North Korea’s doomsday arsenal that Pyongyang’s military is most likely to use in a war, one that can potentially kill millions of people, and one for which the U.S. military is woefully unprepared: chemical and biological arms.

Nuclear weapons will continue to be the top concern. But they are far from the only one. Specifically, U.S. forces in the region lack sufficient medical countermeasures, protective gear and technology to identify so-called chem-bio agents, Pentagon insiders say. And the troops are insufficiently trained, manned and equipped for such a fight, according to previously unreported Pentagon audits and Army officials. Only about 1 in 3 of the Army’s special units that deal with doomsday agents is fully prepared, the service confirmed.

Senate NDAA Would Mandate Work on Missile Defenses in Space
Though it’s unclear whether the military would even recommend effort

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted behind closed doors on May 23 to require the Pentagon to start developing missile-killing interceptors for deployment in space — whether or not the Pentagon agrees.

The provision, by Texas Republican Ted Cruz, has become part of the defense authorization bill being debated now and into next week on the Senate floor.

Zombie Zumwalt: The Ship Program That Never Dies
Two ships have been ‘delivered’ but don’t exactly work as planned

In 2006, Congress started funding construction of the first of three Navy destroyers named after the late famed Navy chief Adm. Elmo Zumwalt. But nearly a dozen years later, none of the Zumwalt ships is ready to fight.

None will be for years. And hundreds of millions more dollars will be required to get there. The ships, known as DDG 1000s, may yet become capable and, with enough additional money, they may even become warships of unprecedented lethality. But the extent of the program’s problems to date — and the remaining cost to make things right — has not been fully appreciated even among many defense experts.

Navy’s Top-Dollar Stealth Fighter May Not Go the Distance
New report raises questions about multibillion-dollar program

The Navy’s newest fighter jet, the stealthy F-35C, may not have the range it needs to strike enemy targets, the House Armed Services Committee said in a new report, raising troubling questions about whether the multibillion-dollar program is already outpaced by threats.

And critics say the Navy fighter — part of the Joint Strike Fighter initiative, the most expensive weapons program in history — may actually have been out of date years ago.

Analysis: What Matters Most in the NDAA
Obscurities and omissions define this year’s defense authorization bill

The massive defense authorization bill approved by the House Armed Services panel early Thursday morning is a consequential measure — but not for the reasons most people think.

The $708.1 billion bill, which the House plans to debate the week of May 21, would endorse the largest budget for defense since World War II, adjusting for inflation and when war spending is taken out of the equation.

Analysis: Trump’s Iran Policy Unmoored From Facts
U.S. dropping out of 2015 multinational agreement

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. government would drop out of the 2015 multinational agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear activities. His White House speech included inaccurate statements and omissions of fact that reflect either misunderstanding of the accord or an effort to distort the historical record.

“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction, that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program,” Trump said. Actually, it was the concern that Iran might be creating the ability to build weapons that led to the 2015 deal.