The so-called “black” budget — which refers to classified government spending on military procurement, operations, and intelligence — is not merely secret. It is actually deceptive and misleading, since it produces a distortion in the amount and the presentation of the published budget.
The amount of money that is purportedly appropriated for the US Air Force, for example, does not all go to the Air Force, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently observed.
“Each year, a significant portion of the Air Force budget contains funds that are passed on to, and managed by, other organizations within the Department of Defense. This portion of the budget, called ‘pass-through,’ cannot be altered or managed by the Air Force. It resides within the Air Force budget for the purposes of the President’s budget request and apportionment, but is then transferred out of the Service’s control,” according to a Senate report on the 2019 defense bill (S.Rept. 115-262).
Although the report does not say so, the Air Force budget may also include pass-through funding for the Central Intelligence Agency, which of course is not even part of the Department of Defense, as well as for other non-Air Force intelligence functions.
“In fiscal year 2018, the Air Force pass-through budget amounted to approximately $22.0 billion, or just less than half of the total Air Force procurement budget. The committee believes that the current Air Force pass-through budgeting process provides a misleading picture of the Air Force’s actual investment budget.”
The Senate therefore recommended that such “pass-through” funds be removed from the Air Force budget and included in Defense-wide appropriations.
But in the House-Senate conference on the FY2019 defense bill, this move was blocked and so the deceptive status quo will continue to prevail.
Earlier this month, the Director of National Intelligence and the Pentagon Comptroller wrote to Congress to present their views on the Senate provision. A copy of their letter, which presumably objected to the proposed move, has been requested but not yet released.
The logic of the Senate proposal was explained by Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in “Time to Get the Black Out of the Blue,” Real Clear Defense, June 13.