May 9, 2022 (Arlington, VA) - Transparency in budgeting is critical to a functioning Republic. Yet for almost as long as there has been a Department of the Air Force, its budget has been used as an opportune hiding place for spending by other agencies—money that passes through the Air Force but is never used by or influenced by the department. In 2023, that amounted to $40.2 billion, or 17.1 percent of the overall department of the Air Force budget.
Now Congress appears poised to do something about it. Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii) introduced the bipartisan Defense Budget Transparency Act of 2022 (HR 7475) April 26, marking a critical first step in righting this wrong. The measure would require the Pentagon to fund an independent study of pass-through spending and its impact on the Air Force, Space Force, and the perception across government and the public.
“Taxpayers and policy leaders need to know how their money is being spent and apportioned,” said Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright (Ret.), president of the Air & Space Forces Association. “The pass-through distorts how the Congress and the American people view and understand Pentagon spending, a practice that hides funding from other agencies in a budget that has, for the past 30 years, been starved of the resources needed to maintain modern and ready Air and Space Forces.”
Indeed, the $40.2 billion in pass-through spending is almost double what the department will invest this year in the entire Space Force enterprise; over the past three decades, total pass-through spending surpassed $750 billion.
“While most in Congress or the Pentagon believe the Air Force, Army, and Navy budgets are roughly equal, the reality is that the Air Force consistently gets the smallest share of the Pentagon budget allocation. At the same time combatant commanders continue to demand much more of what Airmen and Guardians bring to worldwide joint war fighting requirements."
The U.S. Air Force today has eight air fleets averaging 50 years old or older and two—the KC-135 and B-52—that exceeds 60. Its fighter aircraft, whose performance characteristics impose the greatest wear and tear, now average 31 years old, and four out of five are old generations of aircraft first designed in the 1970s.
“The pass-through amount of $40 billion that is included in the Air Force’s budget this year is deceiving,” Wright said. “That leaves the impression that the Air Force is getting that money and it is not. While that money goes to programs that are important to the nation’s security, moving these funds to 'other DOD agencies' is in reality where the money goes.”
Air and space power are in constant and high demand and current capacity—the number of combat squadrons available—falls short of the nation’s national security requirements. “Growing threats in both the Pacific and Europe show how vital air and space power are to U.S. defense, both around the world and here at home,” Wright said. “Pass-through misconstrues the reality of the billions the public thinks are being invested in American air and space power.”
Wright applauded Reps. Bacon and Kahele for their bipartisan leadership in advancing H.R. 7574.
“The Defense Budget Transparency Act of 2022 is a critical step toward clarifying our nation’s investment in its Air and Space Forces,” Wright said. “The resulting report will go far to reveal opportunities to strengthen America’s security in the face of burgeoning Chinese and Russian threats."