- You’ll need a copy of the Congressional Budget Justification Book, which explains the justification for every budget item, according to Lance Hampton, foreign policy specialist at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The challenge is the cumbersome size of the J-Book, which can be upwards of 800 pages. The executive summary provides an alternative to the full text, but it’s pretty useless if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, Hampton says.
- The U.S. Department of Defense Budget Request (PDF) is a new and very useful addition to reporters’ budget tools.
- Get a copy of the President’s budget request. Spending justifications in the president’s budget request can be different from congressional justifications in appropriations bills. Remember that Congress’ justification trumps the president’s request and sets the final guidelines for defense spending, but be sure to know the difference between the two budgets.
- Reporters should always have the appropriations bills that accompany defense spending because appropriations committees drive Defense Department spending. Conference reports from the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations are the single most important document because these reports include not only the final appropriations bills, but also explanatory statements and detail all spending provisions and legislative amendments. Bill mark-ups and fact sheets from the Committee on Appropriations will also provide more detail on spending regulations and statements by ranking committee members. These documents are available on the appropriations committee’s site.
- Reports from the Government Accountability Office come out regularly often provide a first look at inefficiencies or failing weapons programs that might prompt Congressional action. The GAO annual weapons report is published in March. (2010 version (PDF)). The report is good for guidance for what’s coming down the line six or seven months from now.
- You can track the cost of major weapons in the quarterly Selected Acquisition Reports, or the SAR, published four times a year.
- Be familiar with Title 10, the law that provides the legal basis for the organization and roles of each of the armed services and help direct reporters to the person or office responsible for a defense program.
- Congressional Research Service, the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, produces regular reports on military activity that are available online. They provide an authoritative benchmark for reporters, but there is often a delay in publication, so rarely do they serve for breaking news stories. Often, congressional committees or offices that requested the reports are the place to go to get them.
- The Congressional Budget Office publishes budget analyses and cost estimates of defense bills. Reporters can also contact CBO analysts for help understanding defense budgets.
- The Department of Defense Comptroller publishes a budget for Procurement Programs (P-1), provided to the Defense oversight committee of Congress. The FY 2012 version and FY 2011 version.
- The government’s Office of the Inspector General keeps a compilation of all its reports on the Defense Department, including audits, systems assessments and contracting oversight.
- The Defense Contract Management Agency keeps a FOIA reading room that is updated with monthly reports on the Joint Strike Fighter.
“You have to get a little lucky. The latest study on an issue might be out of date,” said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.
CRS defense specialists are often good sources and can provide historical context, although many speak only on background.
Publications from the budget office, by topic: