- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Congress’ budget deal provides funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that is larded with pork-barrel projects, a member of the House Appropriations Committee says.

“There are a number of items [in the war spending measure] that you could only classify as parochial projects or pork,” Rep. Jeff Flake told The Washington Times.

The special $159 billion funding measure, known Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), contains spending that is “not related to the war,” the Arizona Republican added.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently told lawmakers about “several billion dollars” in the OCO “that was moved around, principally by the Congress … [to pay for] things that we don’t need or want.”

Mr. Gates said he wanted to use that money instead to pay for the U.S. contribution to the U.N.-backed airstrikes on Libya and for the 18,000 personnel and 19 warships helping with earthquake-relief operations in Japan.

The defense secretary did not elaborate, and the Pentagon press office declined to enumerate the items he was referring to. A defense official told The Times “the secretary was referring to congressional additions to the OCO budget totaling approximately $4 billion.”

Rep. Colleen W. Hanabusa, whose question prompted Mr. Gates’ comments, told The Times last week she found his remarks “disconcerting” at a time “when we’re searching high and low for ways to cut spending.”

“That is why I asked for an exact accounting for these funds. I am looking forward to hearing back from the Department of Defense,” the Hawaii Democrat said.

Mr. Flake said he was working hard to identify the pork-barrel projects, which often are buried in massive budget documents.

“Appropriators have over the years been very clever about how they classify” such projects, he said. “It is difficult when you are not going through the regular appropriations process to weed these out.”

Mr. Flake said they include money for schools and roads on military bases in the United States.

Among the largest procurement items added to the measure:

• $850 million for unspecified National Guard and Reserve equipment.

• $500 million for Blackhawk helicopters for the Army and Air Force.

• $495 million for Navy FA-18 Hornet strike aircraft.

• $455 million to modernize Texas and Mississippi National Guard Apache helicopters.

• $189 million for Aegis missile interceptors.

• $112 million for development of new sensors for the Air Force.

• $100 million for Stryker armored vehicles.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told the Senate last month that more than $37 million also had been added to the OCO to pay for the National Guard to help secure the southwest border.

“I strongly support funding for the southwest border - to have it secured - and I will continue to advocate for that, but it doesn’t apply to overseas contingency operations,” Mr. McCain said.

A Republican staffer for the House Appropriations Committee told The Times: “There are no ‘pork’ projects or earmarks in this defense legislation, period.”

The Obama administration originally requested the OCO for 2011 in February 2010, with the regular 2011 budget.

In October, when fiscal 2011 started, funding for all federal spending was provided in a series of temporary measures because lawmakers and the administration were unable to agree on a budget until late Friday.

“There is some room in the [2011] OCO because they spent less [on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan] than they expected” when they submitted the request, said Steven Daggett, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service.

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