Pentagon/money
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With the Covid-19 crisis occupying the national psyche and political agenda for the foreseeable future, the US Department of Defense has quietly asked Congress to allow it to make its future spending projections a secret.

The submission of an unclassified version of the 'Future Years Defense Program' (FYDP), which estimates defense spending for five to seven years, has been a legal requirement since 1989 — in other words, roughly since the end of the Cold War.

The details of the request to scrap that long-standing obligation (which has curiously flown under the radar for weeks) were published by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) on Monday. The March 6 proposal would "remove the statutory requirement" to submit spending projections to congress and would also "remove the requirement to certify the accuracy of the input" to the FYDP.

The unclassified submission has become an "integral part of the defense budget process," wrote Steven Aftergood, who heads the FAS Project on Government Secrecy. Removing it, particularly at a time when US national security spending is already "poorly aligned with actual threats to the nation" would make it "even harder" for both Congress and the public to refocus and reconstruct the defense budget, he added.

The DOD has justified the move by claiming to be "concerned" that continued publication of the spending projections might "expose vulnerabilities" and "inadvertently reveal sensitive information" to enemies about the department's "weapons development, force structure, and strategic plans."

This is most certainly a bogus reason, given that the Pentagon has been disclosing this exact information for the past 31 years, seemingly without it being any kind of threat to national security. Of course, this spin should hardly come as a surprise. Hyping non-existent or hypothetical threats to ferret away as much cash as possible is standard practice for the Pentagon generals.

Rather than an effort to shield so-described "sensitive" information from prying foreign eyes, the DOD's request looks more like an attempt to curtail the ability of the public and the media to scrutinize its spending plans.

It was described as a "serious step backwards in transparency" by Seamus Daniels, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

The request also appears to be part of a broader assault by the DoD on public oversight. Two years ago, Aftergood notes, the department also stopped publishing its legislative proposals to Congress on DoD General Counsel's website and now makes them much more difficult to obtain.

One need not look very far to find countless reasons why the Pentagon needs more stringent public oversight, not less. Take for instance the fact that it could not seem to account for how it spent $21 trillion (that's trillion, not billion) between 1998 and 2015. The $326,000 spent by the US Air Force on coffee cups ($1,200 apiece) that kept breaking seems like small-change now, doesn't it? Ditto for the $10,000 apiece toilet seat covers.

The US defense budget currently stands at around $750 billion — more than the military budgets of the next seven big-spending countries combined, including Russia, China and the UK. The way the Pentagon spends (and hides) that money has been described as "astonishing fraud" by David Lindorff, investigative journalist and columnist for The Nation.

In 2018, Lindorff told RT that his Pentagon sources admitted that the DOD submits false financial statements to congress every year, stashes money away to be unaccounted for — and then asks for more. "And so, Congress obligingly gives them more," he said. All the while, unspent billions are shielded from public oversight altogether and pooled into a slush fund to be used for whatever takes its fancy.

With that in mind, does it sound like the Pentagon has earned the trust of American taxpayers enough to justify making its (probably already fake) future-year spending projections a total secret?

As usual, the US government is attempting to use a national crisis and public fear to row back on oversight and accountability while citizens and the media are distracted by something shinier. Indeed, there has been little media coverage of the DOD's attempt to remove the most paltry of oversight requirements from law.

Yet, with state and federal budgets set to come under increasing constraints due to the Covid-19 crisis, now would be the perfect time to deliver the message that the Pentagon's spending must be subject to more public and media scrutiny, not less.