Elizabeth Warren urges Pentagon for higher ethical standards, lower costs

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Ringing in the new year comes the arrival of the national defense spending package of nearly $858 billion, a $45 billion increase over President Joe Biden’s budget request that lawmakers say will increase the “strategic competition with China and Russia” of the US will promote.

After a year of Congress questioning military officials and drafting the bill’s supporting elements, the annual “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the Pentagon, passed the Senate with just two weeks to go. going into the 2022 congressional session. Eighty-three senators voted in favor of the bill, while only eleven opposed it. One of those 11 was instrumental in drafting the bill: Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Warren serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for drafting legislation. As in previous years, Warren voted against the measure in principle. She believes that the allowed expenditures for the military are too high if other issues, such as childcare and climate change, remain underfunded in her view.

For Warren, that voice is an integral part of her vision of what American national security is all about.

“We are stronger when we live our values,” said Warren News week in an exclusive interview. “The rest of the world is more likely to join us, trust us in times of danger and follow our lead if they know we hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard.”

“Security is much more than just counting how many missiles the military has,” she explained. “It’s about working with others to try and lift us all up. When other nations trust us to follow our moral guidelines, we’re more likely to make the world a safer place — and that’s good for every American.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is photographed at the Capitol.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

Competing priorities

During the defense budget review process, Warren worked to get the military to address other priorities.

“Climate change is a huge threat to our security,” said Warren News week. “I did everything I could to get the military on the side of a solution instead of continuing to contribute to the problem.”

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One of Warren’s most significant achievements in this year’s NDAA was a provision requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to transition its non-tactical vehicles to electric or zero-emission vehicles by 2035. The Pentagon must also consider the electrical load of some of its electric vehicle charging infrastructure when planning future construction projects.

Warren’s work to distinguish the US from its main adversaries goes far beyond its climate provisions. The 2023 Defense Act allocates $25 million to implement the DOD’s Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Plan, which aims to protect civilians from harm during military operations. It will also fund the establishment of a Center of Excellence to serve as a hub and facilitator for analysis and training to prevent civilian harm.

By approving this provision, Warren wants to strengthen the moral authority of the US military and further legitimize the work of his servicemen. She hopes a more values-driven military can help the US improve its recruiting and retention efforts, an ongoing challenge for the Pentagon.

To attract the next generation of military personnel, Warren introduced a provision, enshrined in the Defense Act, that ensures oversight of military housing conditions, a move to curb “rat-infested, mold-covered” housing, she said some. service personnel encountered.

A long-standing effort by Warren to improve recruitment and retention also paid off this year. In October, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin authorized the renaming of military bases bearing the names of Confederate soldiers.

“Living our values ​​is about treating all people with dignity and respect,” said Warren News week. “I dug into military housing as part of that, but renaming Confederate bases was also a big part of making sure today’s military honors each of our servicemen and doesn’t treat anyone like a second-class citizen.”

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Warren has urged Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, not to become lobbyists after their government service.
Greg Nash/Bloomberg/Getty

Gaining a technological edge

Making the military a more comfortable place to work for people from diverse backgrounds is central to the challenges Warren expects the country to face in a future where technology and cyberspace are expected to become an increasingly important part of the way the military operates. Both China and Russia continue to develop military cyber-forces. US industries have already fallen victim to cyberattacks from suspected Russian hacking groups, including the 2021 Colonial Pipeline attack, which disrupted fuel transmission across the East Coast, and the 2020 SolarWinds cyberattack, which exposed government data.

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To better prepare the Pentagon for such possible attacks in the future, Warren says the department needs to help young people rethink what a military career can mean to better attract “the next generation of computer programmers and AI specialists.” . She adds that it also means investing in future research and development to keep the US technologically ahead of its opponents.

Warren cites the $2 million in funding she secured in the 2023 NDAA for the MIT Lincoln Lab’s superconducting microelectronics program as an example.

Curbing costs

To effectively carry out that work and strengthen America’s position in the future, Warren returns to the concern that led her to vote “no” to the NDAA for so many years in a row: cost.

While she believes the country should invest in an “effective force in the field,” she thinks the U.S. could make better use of some of the money it spends on national security by rethinking the relationship between the federal government and defense contractors. to investigate.

“I fought hard to end the price hike,” Warren said News week. “U.S. taxpayers pay far more than they should for the equipment and services the DOD buys.”

Senator Warren criticizes Pentagon spending
The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, on November 29, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

In 2017, Warren sent a letter to the DOD’s inspector general asking the agency to investigate Ohio-based aerospace company TransDigm for using “tactics to prevent disclosure of cost information for parts with the government is shared”. A 2019 Pentagon review found that TransDigm had made profits from DOD contracts with margins ranging from 17 to 4,451 percent. This exceeded the win rates of 15 percent or less that the DOD deems “reasonable.”

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A subsequent 2021 report again found that TransDigm earned at least $20.8 million in excess profits on DOD contracts. TransDigm is not the only contractor at the center of such DOD reports. In 2013, the department found that “Boeing charged the military about $13 million (131.5 percent) more than fair and reasonable prices” for parts.

In an effort to address this problem, Warren introduced the Stop Price Gouging the Military Act, which strengthens the Pentagon’s authority to “ensure that contract prices are fair and reasonable” by providing the department with the information necessary to take action. such as those performed by TransDigma. The intent of the legislation was reflected in the 2023 NDAA.

Warren has also participated in committee hearings to get commitments from top Pentagon officials that they would not engage in private sector lobbying immediately after their tenure at the Pentagon.

Secretary Austin, in response to a 2021 question from Warren, said he would not seek a defense contractor board position or become a lobbyist after his government service. That same year, she also secured commitments from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu that they would not work in the defense industry for at least four years after their time at the Pentagon.

Warren’s goal is to ensure that taxpayers get the most for their money by improving the Department of Defense’s ethical standards of practice.

“[National security] means fighting the ethics battle in the Department of Defense and closing the revolving door between defense contractors and the DOD that makes all the decisions about how profitable the military purchases will be,” Warren said. News week.

“That’s how I think the pieces are coming together in the Senate Armed Forces Committee to make sure we have an effective combat capability,” she explained. “My two priorities on the armed services front are holding our government accountable for its promises and living our values ​​every day.”

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