House panel rejects USAF bid to realign S&T accounts, citing DOD reprogramming abuses

By Sara Sirota / July 13, 2020 at 2:52 PM

House appropriators are so frustrated with the Pentagon's brazen disregard for lawmakers' oversight authorities when realigning congressionally allocated funds that they're rejecting the Air Force's proposal to consolidate its budget accounts for science and technology research.

In its FY-21 funding request, the Air Force sought to combine $955 million from 14 different applied research and advanced technology budget accounts into one existing and five new program elements. The change is needed to enable more flexibility as new capabilities emerge in the commercial sector, Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper told the House Armed Services intelligence and emerging threats subcommittee in March.

But the House Appropriations defense subcommittee argues approving the proposal could embolden the Defense Department to take more liberties realigning funds without seeking lawmakers' permission, according to the report accompanying the panel's mark of the fiscal year 2021 defense spending bill.

Elsewhere in the report, the subcommittee specifically cites -- and "condemns" -- the Defense Department's transfer of billions of dollars in appropriated funds to support the Trump administration's border wall.

"The granting of additional budget flexibility to the Department is based on the presumption that a state of trust and comity exists between the legislative and executive branches regarding the proper use of appropriated funds. This presumption presently is false," the House appropriators write.

Although they recommend keeping the Air Force's S&T accounts in their original form, the lawmakers don't necessarily disagree with the service's goals. Rather, they appear to be holding up the Air Force's request to compel Pentagon leadership to abide by their oversight authorities.

"The Committee is open to reconsidering this proposal once the Department's leadership recommits to honoring Congress's constitutional power of the purse," the House appropriators' report states.

The full committee is scheduled to mark up the bill tomorrow.