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The Editors

Congress Should End the U.S. Military’s Wish Lists

Requiring the service branches to submit requests for pet projects adds waste to the budget and undermines civilian control.

The F-35 has cost taxpayers $398 billion. The Air Force wants more.

The F-35 has cost taxpayers $398 billion. The Air Force wants more.

Photographer: George Frey/Getty Images North America

In his first budget request to Congress, President Joe Biden is set to propose $715 billion in defense spending — a 0.4% cut in real terms. After four years in which military spending increased substantially, the administration is right to take aim at Pentagon excess and seek greater value for taxpayer dollars. But perhaps the biggest obstacles to realizing those goals are the military services themselves.

Each year, the heads of the country’s main service branches — the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — submit lists of “unfunded requirements” that they think are being shortchanged by the Pentagon’s civilian leadership. The services aren’t merely encouraged to provide these wish lists to Congress; since 2017, they’ve been required to do so by law. In recent years, Congress has even expanded the requirement, mandating that the leaders of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Missile Defense Agency, the Coast Guard and the Space Force submit lists of their own.