Con. Randy Forbes

The defense budget is a lens through which we see our national defense priorities and the tool by which we will equip our warfighters and maintain a ready defense. To achieve an effective defense budget requires – at the very least – accountability and transparency.

While the Administration has certainly insisted on transparency when it involves divulging interrogation techniques used on detainees, they have refused to apply the same standard for the American people when it comes to the readiness of our nation’s defenses. Consider the following recent actions:

  • The Administration announced it has classified routine reports on ship readiness, preventing the results from being brought to the public’s attention.
  • The Secretary of Defense has refused to submit a congressionally-mandated 30-year shipbuilding plan with the 2010 budget request, even though it is required by law.
  • The Secretary of Defense has refused to submit a congressionally-mandated 30-year military aviation plan for the Air Force and Navy, even though it is required by law.
  • For the first time in history, Defense Secretary Robert Gates instituted a gag order requiring hundreds of Pentagon officials sign non-disclosure agreements barring them from discussing budget deliberations with Members of Congress. The gag-order was ultimately lifted, but not before senior Army officials refused to testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Army’s top acquisition project, because it was “too closely aligned to the FY2010 budget.”

Transparency in information is essential for Members of Congress to analyze the defense budget and, more importantly, to ensure the American people understand the collective risk we assume as a country if we do not invest in a strong national defense. Failures in transparency leave Congress, which is charged with responsibility to “raise and support Armies” and “to provide and maintain a Navy,” without the necessary information to address national security weaknesses.

Next week, the House Armed Services Committee will mark up the annual defense policy bill without visibility to a long-term shipbuilding plan, a military aviation plan, or thorough information on the reasoning behind the proposed defense budget. Consequently, we are left with what appears to be a budget-driven defense proposal, rather than a strategy-driven budget. And when it comes to equipping our warfighters and modernizing our force for the security of our nation, we should neither be assessing capabilities on the battlefield nor allowing our budget to determine our strategy.

In the near term, it may be politically opportune for the Administration to hide defense shortfalls in favor of funneling government spending elsewhere, like a string of ineffective bailouts. In the long term, however, this secrecy in spending priorities only temporarily conceals a dangerous course for our nation. The Administration would do well to apply its promise of “unprecedented levels of openness in Government” to the defense of our nation.

The views expressed by guest bloggers on the Foundry do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heritage Foundation.