Winslow Wheeler, watchdog, Responsible Statecraft - Watching Congress turn a blind eye to Pentagon spending

Winslow Wheeler, watchdog, Responsible Statecraft
Watching Congress turn a blind eye to Pentagon spending


The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act finally passed Congress just a few days before Christmas 2021. No news this is the first half of that sentence.

The NDAA — the defense budget bill is so routinized it’s been reduced to Capital letters — gets passed every year.  And every year, including this one, the amount it places in the Pentagon’s piggy back is bigger than the year before. Also, this year as usual, the Congress coughed up more than the president had asked for.

Most news reports on this annual rite of passage covered that, the $768 billion total, its growth in size and the huge bipartisan support it got in both the House and the Senate.

And most news coverage of what is, after all, a money bill, concentrated to its implications for foreign policy, like what Reuters called in its lead paragraph, “push back against Russia and China,” expressed in $300 million ticketed for Ukraine’s military and $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative.  Countering China involves $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a statement of congressional support for the defense of Taiwan.

Congresspeople and Senators love to feature the “geo-strategic” aspects of their work, and journalists go along with the game because the think it elevates their coverage.  But add up those Russia-China initiatives and throw in the 2.7 percent pay increase promised to all 1.35 million members of the Armed Services and you still have accounted less than half of the new money added to the 2022 budget.

The legislators don’t tend to talk about the other half of the new authorizations or the humdrum $700 billion in ongoing expenditures because they can’t. Because they have no idea what’s really being spent on this, that and almost every other damn thing they have just approved.

This appalling ignorance is also SOP, but this year it was worse than usual because, as I told you in my lead sentence: this year’s NDAA “finally passed Congress just a few days before Christmas.”

Pushing the defense bill debate so late, another victorious obstruction for Mitch McConnell, allowed the mostly-conservative “old bulls” of the House and Senate, to dictate many of its details. A few of them like dropping sanctions against the Russian Nord Stream Two gas pipeline to northern Europe or the plan to make women sign up for the draft drew squawks. But whatever was in more than 2000 pages of fine print passed by politicians and journalists who hadn’t been given time to see them.


Winslow T. Wheeler worked for 31 years on Capitol Hill for both Republican and Democratic Senators and for the Government Accountability Office on national security and program evaluation issues. When he left Capitol Hill he worked at the Center for Defense Information and the Project On Government Oversight for thirteen years altogether.

Wheeler directed the Straus Military Reform Project of the Project On Government Oversight and has written two books: The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages National Security and Military Reform: An Uneven History and an Uncertain Future. He is also the editor of two anthologies, The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It and America’s Defense Meltdown: Military Reform for President Obama and the New Congress.



Subscribe to insider notes from Dave Marash along with previews and cartoons of upcoming podcasts. You’ll be richer, taller, and if you don’t eat, thinner.


Here & There is kept afloat by wonderful sponsors and curious listeners like you. Your support is appreciated!