Sanders vows tougher oversight of defense contractors as Budget Committee chairman

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) vowed Wednesday to use his perch as the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee to impose tougher oversight of the Pentagon and defense contractors.

At a budget hearing titled “Waste, Fraud, Cost Overruns, and Auditing at the Pentagon,” the vocal progressive noted that the Department of Defense’s (DOD) budget of about $740 billion is the largest in the government and suggested those funds could hinder progress on an array of other issues. 

“We, as members of Congress, have the responsibility to do everything that we can to make sure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and cost-effectively. That is true whether the issue is health care or education or anything else,” Sanders said. “It is certainly true when it comes to the Department of Defense, an agency with a budget of $740 billion, by far the largest spending category in our discretionary budget, consuming more than half of all discretionary spending.” 

“In my view, the time is long overdue for us to take a hard look at the enormous amount of waste, at the cost overruns, at the fraud, and at the financial mismanagement that has plagued the Department of Defense and the military industrial complex for decades,” he added.

Progressives, many of whom view Sanders as a leader in Congress, have pushed for a reduction to the Pentagon’s budget in light of a slew of other priorities they say need bolstered funding. 

Frustration with the DOD’s funds grew louder earlier this year surrounding President Biden’s budget outline, which essentially maintained the level of funding for the Pentagon from the Trump administration. 

“Rather than requesting a flat Pentagon budget, we urge you to seek a significantly reduced Pentagon topline,” 50 House Democrats wrote to the White House in March. “Hundreds of billions of dollars now directed to the military would have greater return if invested in diplomacy, humanitarian aid, global public health, sustainability initiatives, and basic research.”

Beyond the Pentagon’s funds, Sanders hinted he would take a closer look at taxpayer dollars that are going to private contractors and end up enriching those companies’ executives.

“How does it happen that about half of the $740 billion annual defense budget goes not to our troops, but to defense contractors, while virtually all of them have paid huge fines for misconduct and fraud while making massive profits on those contracts?” Sanders asked. 

“I find it interesting that despite the fact that the lion’s share of revenue for some of the defense contractors comes from the taxpayers of the United States, these same companies provide their CEOs and executives excessive and extremely large compensation packages,” he said.

The moves are unsurprising for Sanders, a longtime progressive who twice campaigned for president on a vow to significantly rejigger the country’s spending priorities to focus on what he views as more pressing threats.

“Over 90 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured; close to 600,000 are homeless; our child care system is dysfunctional and enormously expensive; we have one of the highest rates of childhood poverty of any major nation; our roads and bridges are crumbling, and we face the existential threat to our country and planet of climate change,” he said Wednesday. “In other words, there is an enormous amount of work that has to be done and much of that work will be very expensive.”