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The Unfunded Priorities Lists (UPL), also referred to as the Pentagon’s annual, statutorily-required “wish lists,” stand out among the Defense Department’s many budgeting issues. Since being passed into law in 2017, leaders of military forces—including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force, Missile Defense Agency, 11 combatant commands, and the National Nuclear Security Administration—are legally obligated to outline the programs and activities they would fund if only they had the additional resources.

Last year, the Pentagon submitted not one but two “unfunded priorities” wish lists, requesting nearly $50 billion in extra spending over the president’s budget request.

Endless Funding for Weapons Fuels Endless War

President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Endless money fuels endless war, often at the expense of human needs at home and abroad. When lawmakers fund weapons and programs that even military leaders do not want, we are not making our country or world safer. These lists offer a backdoor for boosting already excessive military spending. As we work to realign our national priorities, ending this tool for additional, unchecked spending on weapons and war is a critical first step.

Reducing Transparency and Worsening Our Fiscal Problems

These Pentagon wish lists have faced their share of criticism over the years—not only from groups like FCNL. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who helped to bring down wish list costs by 90% from 2008 to 2009, called for a reckoning: “The U.S. cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything.”

These lists contribute to the United States’ ballooning military spending and compound an already dysfunctional Congressional budget process. By bypassing the formal budget process, they undermine responsible fiscal management and hinder efforts to rein in annual deficits and national debt. The lack of transparency and public disclosure also denies taxpayers the chance to hold the Pentagon accountable at a  time when the institution has failed six consecutive audits.

Security Implications

The problem goes beyond the question of responsible spending. Doing away with these lists is also crucial for national security.

Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Comptroller Mike McCord, support repealing UPL requirements. The latter called the wish lists an ineffective “way to illuminate joint priorities.” Funding our military this way means that—too often—the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The system fuels competition between military branches and makes coordinating a cohesive national defense strategy harder.

Seeking A New Way Forward

We have an opportunity to end the use of these mandatory Unfunded Priority Lists once and for all. Bipartisan legislation led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) has been introduced into both the House as the Streamline Pentagon Spending Act (H.R. 4740).

Repealing the UPL mandate is something leaders on both sides of the aisle can get behind. As Senator Mike Lee (UT) said, eliminating this prerequisite will “reduce costly reporting requirements and enhance the ability of Congress to carry out its constitutional duty to oversee the budgetary process and ensure the responsible use of tax-payer funds.”

As the annual Pentagon budget nears $1 trillion, recent polls show a majority of Americans want more regulations on Pentagon spending. Repealing the UPL mandate is a common sense, practical step in this direction.