John M. Donnelly

Senators Again Push Steamboat Exemption Despite Safety Warnings
Ship has taken on outsize significance on Capitol Hill

A group of senators have quietly inserted into a Coast Guard authorization bill a provision that would allow an old wooden steamboat to operate as an overnight cruise ship despite repeated official warnings that doing so would create a floating fire trap.

The Senate fell four votes short Wednesday of moving forward with the authorization measure. But the issue is not expected to die there.

Analysis: Bolton’s Appointment Ups Odds of War
Incoming national security adviser is a hard-liner on Iran and North Korea

When President Donald Trump and his national security team make decisions soon about North Korea and Iran that could eventually lead to war, one of the few voices of restraint in the room may be a man known as “Mad Dog.”

That nickname has never quite fit that man, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and he doesn’t like it. Mattis is a fierce warrior, but war to him is a last resort, because he has seen firsthand its horrible toll.

Podcast: The Risks to Trump's Unconventional Approach to Tariffs, North Korea
CQ on Congress, Episode 94

CQ trade reporter Ellyn Ferguson and defense reporter John M. Donnelly spell out the risks posed by President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and his agreement to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Show Notes:

Analysis: Stunning North Korea Deal May Take Years to Nail Down
Breakthrough decision to meet is just the beginning

The announcement in Washington Thursday night that the leaders of America and North Korea would soon meet for the first time and talk about eliminating North Korea’s nuclear missiles was an astonishing moment pregnant with promise — an event that let the world sigh. Enjoy it. But now look beneath the book’s cover. The prequel has not even been drafted, let alone any chapters written.

South Korea’s national security director, Chung Eui-Yong, told reporters on the White House lawn Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had committed to “denuclearization.” Kim had told the South Koreans he could even tolerate U.S.-South Korean military exercises, drills that Kim had previously decried. And Kim said he would refrain from additional tests of ballistic missiles or nuclear bombs, according to Chung.

The Army’s Ryan McCarthy Pulls the Plug on Bad Acquisitions
“We’re not informed enough,” undersecretary says

There’s something different about the Army these days. In a word, it is humility.

The service does not have a flagship new weapon in the works, only minor modifications to existing systems. Its recent efforts to develop costly hardware have flopped. Its acquisition budget, relative to the Air Force and Navy, is expected to decline in the next decade. U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan now number in the thousands, not the scores of thousands.

Senate’s Defense Spending Bill Shows Need for Budget Deal
Defense appropriators would bust budget caps

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s decision to release the four remaining fiscal 2018 spending bills last week — including a cap-busting defense measure — underscores the urgency to get a deal on the bigger picture.

If the Senate defense bill became law, arbitrary automatic cuts would take place in the middle of January, as Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois pointed out in a Nov. 21 statement.

Congress Generous, Again, With US Funds for Israel’s Defense
Package for Israeli antimissile systems at near record levels, even as transparency questions swirl

Congress is poised to provide Israel with another $705 million for that country’s missile defenses — nearly five times the Trump administration’s request and the second largest annual installment of such aid to date.

The House plans to vote this week to approve a fiscal 2018 national defense policy conference report that would, among its many provisions, authorize the aid to Israel for several antimissile systems. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon and send the bill to the president. And whenever Congress completes work on a defense appropriations bill, lawmakers are highly likely to provide all of that money — and maybe more.

Gold Star Families Getting Rushed Condolence Letters
The White House tried to quickly make the president’s overstatement accurate

A substantial number of families who have lost military servicemembers during the Trump presidency had not been contacted as of this weekend by President Donald Trump, despite his claim to the contrary several days earlier, according to news accounts.

And some of the families that the White House did contact were reached only in recent days by apparently rushed condolence letters that were sent in some cases months after the families lost their loved ones, the reports said.

Pentagon Document Contradicts Trump’s Gold Star Claims
Email undermines veracity of president’s statement about Gold Star contacts

In the hours after President Donald Trump said on an Oct. 17 radio broadcast that he had contacted nearly every family that had lost a military servicemember this year, the White House was hustling to learn from the Pentagon the identities and contact information for those families, according to an internal Defense Department email.

The email exchange, which has not been previously reported, shows that senior White House aides were aware on the day the president made the statement that it was not accurate — but that they should try to make it accurate as soon as possible, given the gathering controversy.

Contrary to Rhetoric, Military Mishaps Have Been Declining
The Pentagon’s deadly accident-filled summer bucked a larger trend

Hawks in Congress have said military mishaps are up because the defense budget is down, but the data says otherwise.

The summer of 2017 saw a rash of fatal military accidents — ships colliding at sea, planes crashing and vehicles catching fire — that were deadlier than attacks from America’s enemies.

Senate Diluted Tough Oversight of Israeli Antimissile Program

Senators quietly deleted from a defense bill last month a strict provision tying continued U.S. funding of a costly Israeli antimissile system to completion of two flight tests.

The retreat from tough oversight came at the request of the Israeli government, sources said.

Safety Experts: Some F-35 Ejections Pose ‘Serious’ Death Risk
Degree of risk is at issue in Pentagon

The F-35 fighter jets’ flawed ejection seats, which Air Force officials said in May had been fixed, still pose a “serious” risk that will probably injure or kill nearly two dozen pilots, according to an internal Air Force safety report that service officials withheld from the press.

The F-35 Joint Program Office — which runs the $406.5 billion initiative, the most expensive weapons program in history — has declined to try to save those lives by conducting less than a year’s worth of additional testing that would cost a relatively paltry few million dollars, the report shows.

McCaskill Pushes Pentagon for Answers on Improper Payments

Sen. Claire McCaskill wants some answers from Defense Secretary James Mattis on the Pentagon’s efforts to curb so-called improper payments to contractors and individuals.

McCaskill sent Mattis a letter Wednesday seeking an update on reports of inadequate Pentagon compliance with a law that mandates monitoring overpayments and underpayments, which totaled $1.2 trillion across the federal government between 2003 and 2016, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Analysis: Why Won't Trump Discuss Troop Numbers?

In a speech to the nation on Aug. 21, President Donald Trump issued a clarion call on Afghanistan, effectively asking Americans to indefinitely extend their longest war at untold additional cost in lives and money. But he declined to say how many of America’s sons and daughters he plans to deploy there.

Trump did not quantify the military deployment even though it has been widely reported that he has already authorized the Pentagon to augment its nearly 8,500 strong force in Afghanistan with almost 4,000 additional service members. The first of the extra troops could arrive within days or weeks, and those numbers could grow depending on conditions in Afghanistan, officials have said.

Members of Trump’s Infrastructure Panel Resign in Protest
Administration not responsive to sound advice, letter says

More than a quarter of a blue-ribbon panel of experts that advises President Donald Trump on infrastructure security submitted a joint resignation letter to him Monday because, they wrote, his actions jeopardize U.S. security and “undermine” America’s “moral infrastructure.”

Seven members of the 27-person National Infrastructure Advisory Council, mostly Democrats, are stepping down, said Cristin Dorgelo, one of the resigning members, in an email to CQ Roll Call. Dorgelo, a senior counselor at Mission Partners LLC, was formerly chief of staff for President Barack Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Defense to Get Historically High Share of Research Budget
Congress likely to resist cuts to nondefense R&D programs

The Pentagon and other security agencies’ outsize consumption of federal research money would grow further under Republican plans, while nondefense research spending would drop, sometimes dramatically, a new congressional report shows.

The Defense Department’s research and development budget would consume 56 percent of the federal R&D total in President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal, according to the Congressional Research Service report. That’s an 18 percent increase above the fiscal 2016 enacted level. When military research at the National Nuclear Security Administration and other agencies is included, the defense share of the federal research budget is closer to 61 percent.

Trump’s Tweet on Transgender Service Members Roils Congress
McCain: Americans who serve should be treated as patriots

President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday morning on Twitter that he will bar transgender people from serving in the military brings to a boil a previously simmering congressional debate.

Critics of Trump’s proposal have already vowed to fight back hard, and the battle will be joined promptly. It will start in the next 24 hours or so during House debate on security spending legislation.

War Waste in the Crosshairs

Three top U.S. auditors briefed a House Armed Services panel Tuesday on discomfiting reports of uncontrolled spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports had all been posted online earlier this year. But the effect of presenting them in a single hearing was striking.

First, the Defense Department had spent as much as $28 million since 2008 buying “unnecessary, untested and costly” uniforms for Afghan security forces, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told the Oversight and Investigations panel.

Analysis: Senators Writing Placeholder Defense Money Bill
Figure will be lower than House, in prelude to likely deal

Senate appropriators’ forthcoming Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2018, which will contain tens of billions of dollars less than the House’s measure, should be taken seriously, but not literally.

The Senate spending panel’s defense funding proposal is likely to grow, assuming — as is likely — that an agreement to slightly raise the budget caps is reached, as it has been for every year since the caps called for by the sequester were enacted in 2011.