The Pentagon Disobey Orders? It Happens

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When the Pentagon is accused by congressional Republicans of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unapproved military projects, it seems like the makings of a huge scandal. The reality, though, is much more prosaic — a case of I'm-the-boss saber rattling by a new head of the defense-spending subcommittee. The Pentagon took fire on Wednesday from Representative Jerry Lewis, who rapped military managers on the knuckles for millions of dollars of unauthorized expenditures — including an ultrasecret Air Force project — ahead of Thursday’s debate over this year’s military spending bill. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon insists the allocations were "honest mistakes" rather than deliberate defiance of Congress. "This tug-of-war over control of military spending goes on all the time, because we’re talking about an institution that spends $1 billion a week," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Lewis, who has taken over as chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s defense spending panel, is just reminding the Pentagon who’s boss."

Of more immediate concern to the Pentagon is bipartisan congressional consensus on grounding the prototype F-22 fighter. The House Appropriations Committee shocked the military by denying an Air Force request for $1.8 billion to build six of the new-generation war planes, a move reinforced late Thursday when an amendment in the House to hand over the money was withdrawn by its backers. And there, the military may be a victim of its own success: The U.S. lost a single warplane in more than 70 days of bombing Yugoslavia, despite that country’s sophisticated air defenses. "Congress can’t see a need to spend $300 million per plane on the F-22 when nobody else appears to have anything to challenge our air capability with F-15's and F-16's," says Thompson. That’s the kind of gratitude you get for winning the arms race....