The Big Promise
"In two years, the public will have a record to look at, and they will know whether Republicans really were different when they took control of the people’s House for the first time in 40 years, or if they slipped easily into business as usual.”
—Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) Contract with America
The Specific Declaration
“I hope we get away from spending defense dollars just to make yourself look good at home,” said Rep. Joel Hefley (R- CO) in a 12 June 1995 article in Air Force Times. The Republican chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee on Military Installations and Facilities, Hefley was criticizing the long-time practice of congressional members adding projects such as National Guard armories in their home districts to the military construction budget. For this budget cycle, he declared, “If the Pentagon did not ask for it, we will not fund it.”
- The administration asked for more money. Twenty percent more—or $10.7 billion for military construction in fiscal 1996.
- Yet more money was added. Despite the requested boost, the House National Security Committee added a net $500 million in unrequested projects, nearly the same amount as last year.
- Some projects were trimmed, but more were added. The National Security Committee trimmed $179 million for seven construction projects, none of which was canceled outright. However, for every project cut, 13 projects were added. These add-ons totaled about $679 million in unrequested funds.
- Most of the money went to home states. Committee members represent 31 states, of which, 28 received add-on projects. In dollars, committee members awarded their home states about $564 million, or more than 80% of the money added.
- Half the money was added to home districts. Of the 87 clearly identifiable domestic projects added, 40, with a total value of $297 million, went to members’ home districts. It should be noted, however, that members on the National Security Committee tend to have military bases in their districts.
- Noncommittee members got table scraps. Only $42 million, or 7% of the money added for domestic projects, went to states without members on the National Security Committee.
- “Quality of Life” was a useful loophole. Despite a substantial increase in requested funding for Defense Secretary Perry’s "quality of life” program, Congress added more. Some 70% of the add-ons were justified as “quality of life” improvements. By declaring that only requested projects would be funded, with the exception of quality of life enhancements, Congress seemed to be shoving money through a loophole of its own design.
- More child-care centers were added. This year, the Pentagon requested $16.5 million for six domestic child-care projects, nearly a one-third increase over its request last year for $12.6 million. The National Security Committee added nine additional child-care projects with a cost of $32 million. Of these, eight were in states represented by committee members.
- Schedules were accelerated. Defenders say that every project added to the fiscal 1996 military construction budget was part of the Pentagon’s Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP); they were simply moved up. Case in point: $15 million added for a bachelor enlisted quarters (BEQ) at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina. According to Marine Corps officials, the BEQ was scheduled for fiscal 1998 as part of routine and ongoing construction. It is not vital to the station’s needs today, but the station happens to be in the home district of Rep. Floyd Spence (R-SC), National Security Committee chairman.
- Low-priority projects were added. In another case, $6 million was added to upgrade a foundry at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The foundry, the sole source for Navy submarine propellers, will remain in operation after the yard is closed. However, the foundry upgrade is not planned for any year of the FYDP. In other words, this project has such a low priority that it did not make the Navy’s list of projects scheduled for the rest of the decade.
- Excess gymnasiums. Another $10 million was added for an additional gymnasium at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, for badminton, squash, aerobics, and paddleball. For these activities, $10 million would provide 20- to 46-year memberships at local health clubs for every one of the 9,000 personnel at the base.
- No extra armories, but. . . House Republican leaders publicly declared that no National Guard armories would be added this year. Last year, 22 armories and other Guard and Reserve projects worth some $58 million were added to the defense bill. True to its declarations, the committee did not add even one armory, but instead added $78 million to 20 other types of unrequested projects, such as maintenance and paint shops, on National Guard and Reserve facilities.
- Failed attempts to cut pork. On 20 June 1995, by a 269 to 158 vote, the House rejected an amendment sponsored by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and David Minge (D-MN) that would have eliminated funding for the foundry upgrade and the gymnasium. Nearly half of the Republicans and three-fourths of the Democrats who cast ballots voted to keep the pork—even Hefley.
- Agents of change? On 21 June 1995, by 319 to 105, the House approved a fiscal 1996 military construction bill with a net $500 million in add-on projects. More than 90% of the 70 representatives with add-ons in their home districts voted for the bill. Last year, 33 Republicans voted against a fiscal 1995 military construction bill that was similarly loaded up. This year, only 30 Republicans voted against the bill.
When the construction add-ons were criticized by watchdog groups as pork-barrel projects, Rep. Spence complained that the critics did not have “a firm grasp of the facts.” All add-ons, he declared, were subjected by his committee to “a rigorous, self- imposed screening process” featuring five stringent criteria (e.g., whether the services considered the project “mission essential”).
However, on 12 July 1995, the Senate Armed Services Committee, using the same criteria, reported out a fiscal 1996 military construction bill with about half as many add-on projects at one fourth the cost ($125 million versus $500 million).
The difference will have to be resolved in the House/Senate conference committee which, as of this writing, has not yet met. In the meantime, it sure looks like the House “slipped easily into business as usual.”
Mr. Evans is the director of National Defense Programs for Business Executives for National Security in Washington, D.C.