Letters And Testimony


An Efficiency Agenda for the Department of Defense

letters and testimony

An Efficiency Agenda for the Department of Defense

May 10, 2024

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Today, I submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate, Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Defense. Click here to download a pdf of the testimony.

Chairman Tester, Ranking Member Collins, and members of the Subcommittee:

My name is Dan Lips. I am Head of Policy at the Foundation for American Innovation, a think tank focused on promoting innovation, strengthening governance, and advancing national security. I write to respectfully request that the Committee include report language requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to include in its annual GAO-IG Act report “estimated completion dates” for all open Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspector General (IG) recommendations. Further, the Committee should require DoD to identify currently unimplemented recommendations that could achieve substantial cost savings for American taxpayers, strengthen national security, and improve the safety and wellbeing of military personnel and their families.

DoD will spend more than $800 billion in FY2024. Defense spending accounts for nearly half of the federal government’s discretionary spending. But the federal government is facing a fiscal crisis that will create increasing pressure on discretionary spending, including the defense budget. For example, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government will spend more on net interest than the defense budget in 2024 and in subsequent years. The scenario unfolding is what once caused former Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen to warn in 2010 that “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt,” since the nation’s ability to appropriately resource the military depends on fiscal and economic conditions.

Congress has a responsibility to take broader actions to course correct the nation’s “unsustainable long-term fiscal path.” But the Subcommittee and DoD also have an opportunity to achieve substantial cost savings and improve DoD’s performance.

Through the FY2023 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congress required GAO to issue a report estimating the potential cost savings that could be achieved if federal agencies acted upon the congressional watchdog agency’s unimplemented recommendations. According to its report responding to Congress, GAO estimated that implementing all of GAO’s open recommendations and matters for Congressional consideration “could produce $92 billion to $182 billion of measurable, future financial benefits.” However, the watchdog agency indicated that this was a conservative estimate, since the estimate did not include “certain individual recommendations that may have large potential financial benefits, such as one for equalizing certain Medicare payment rates that the Congressional Budget Office estimated could result in $141 billion in financial benefits.”

Regarding the Department of Defense, GAO explained that it had made more than 7,600 recommendations for DoD since 2001, and that GAO had identified 251 instances of financial benefits totaling $151 billion and 4,300 other (non-financial) benefits from these recommendations. Further, GAO conducted a simulation that estimated that DoD could achieve between $28 billion and $44 billion in savings if it implemented open recommendations.

As of May 8, 2024, GAO reports that more than 780 recommendations (including 43 priority recommendations) for DoD remain open. More than 200 of these recommendations (including more than 20 priority recommendations) were made more than four years ago, which is important since GAO has warned that recommendations not made within four years are less likely to be implemented.

With its budget submission, DoD included an appendix in response to the GAO-IG Act, which includes detailed information about the status of each open GAO and Inspector General recommendation. A review of DoD’s recommendation database shows that the “Estimated Completion Data for Full Implementation” was listed as “to be determined” for 86 recommendations (including for 47 recommendations made more than four years ago). Similarly, 91 open IG recommendations had a “to be determined” completion date (including for 26 recommendations made more than four years ago).

To help achieve taxpayer savings and achieve other improvements, the Committee should require DoD to do the following:

First, the Committee should include report language encouraging DoD to provide estimated completion dates for all unimplemented GAO or IG recommendations in its GAO-IG Act reports in FY2026 and future years.Providing a clear timeline for the implementation of open recommendations would allow Congress to hold the Department accountable for achieving cost savings and achieving other improvements to strengthen DoD’s improvements in future years.

Second, the Committee should require DoD to identify currently open recommendations that could achieve significant cost savings and expedite their implementations. The Committee could require the DoD to brief Congress on these recommendations and provide a plan of action to implement them in a timely manner.GAO and IG recommendations likely provide a reasonable starting point for achieving substantial cost savings within DoD’s budget. Requiring DoD to identify and brief lawmakers on recommendations that would achieve substantial cost savings and provide a plan for swift implementation would help Congress use its legislative, oversight, and appropriations authorities to increase the efficiency of the national defense budget.

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The federal government’s serious fiscal challenges will require Congress and DoD to increase efficiency to maintain the nation’s defense. Implementing nonpartisan watchdog recommendations in a timely manner should be a priority for Congress and DoD.

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