Magicians not needed to make MEADS disappear

We’ve heard it many times before: Our nation is on a fiscal cliff, there’s a dire need to get spending under control and wasteful projects must be eliminated. Then, once members of Congress have completed their recitations of the obvious, they employ all the excuses under the sun to explain why a particular program they support is essential and should not be placed on the chopping block.

But every now and then, a strange thing happens in Washington — Congress actually does more than merely talk about reining in spending; it acts by eliminating funding for defunct programs. And that’s precisely what’s happening with the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). The House Appropriations Committee has zeroed out MEADS’ funding, and the National Defense Authorization Act in both the Senate and the House struck additional funding for it as well.

Now the Senate Appropriations Committee has the opportunity to eliminate funding for this program as it begins its mark-up of the defense appropriations bill. Even with these steps in the right direction, it’s still far too early to crack open the champagne. Some in Washington still think, despite its woeful record, that MEADS needs additional funding. For example, the president’s FY 2013 budget included a request for $400 million more for MEADS.

Still, proponents of MEADS have deluded themselves into thinking the program is beneficial to our nation and performing well, on time, on budget and saving taxpayer money to boot. All of those assertions are false.

The first assertion — the development of MEADS is running right on schedule — is easy to debunk. If “right on schedule” means at the very least 10 years behind schedule, then yes, MEADS is on time. And thanks to its significant time delays, its so-called cutting-edge technology is about 20 years behind too. But MEADS’ slow progression is only one of the problems plaguing this program.

In 1996, the federal government expected MEADS to cost between $2 and $3 billion. The program’s current cost estimates are now as much as eight times that amount, roughly $19 billion, should the program be allowed to go forward.

And while many are aware of MEADS’ shortcomings, they still try to defend its continued funding by claiming that the project’s termination costs will actually make a bigger dent on taxpayers’ wallets than keeping the project on its current course. This contention also fails to mesh with reality. A Pentagon report explains that ending MEADS would actually save taxpayers money because the program is subject to authorization and appropriation. If Congress doesn’t agree to spend the money, there are no termination costs.