Uphill Sledding for EOD Funding
Photo: Defense Dept.
Once a high-profile mission set, the military’s explosive ordnance disposal community is now receiving less attention — and less money — from lawmakers.
Just a decade ago, policymakers were pumping billions of dollars annually into initiatives to counter improvised explosive devices that were being used to target U.S. troops overseas. The film “The Hurt Locker,” about a fictional EOD team operating in Iraq, won an Oscar for Best Picture. But times have changed.
“We became very well publicized and we became a very big thing during the height of the IED years,” noted Maj. Daniel Long with the Air Force’s congressional liaison office.
“As we’ve withdrawn out of Iraq, as Afghanistan starts to pull down, I don’t know that we normally get the same amount of attention that we have previously, which is frankly a bit of a problem” because of the ongoing threat, he said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Global EOD Symposium and Exhibition.
Between 2006 and 2009, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization received more than $16 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. By 2015, the renamed Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization was receiving less than $600 million annually, and its budgets have remained relatively flat since then.
The total EOD joint force’s budget is now less than 0.1 of the Defense Department’s topline, according to Long.
Part of the funding problem boils down to political economy, he noted.
“I personally would be challenged to find a member of Congress who has a deep parochial or local interest in EOD,” he said. “With the exception of maybe the way the Marine Corps and the Navy are centralized on the East and West Coast, we don’t have a giant footprint of personnel or equipment appropriation or procurement work that occurs in single districts.”
The user community isn’t completely off the radar. The House’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Caucus has about 30 members, although there is no such group in the Senate, said John Holcomb, military legislative assistant for Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark. There is an annual “EOD Day” on the Hill where the military brings in displays for lawmakers and staffers, and an industry day in February, he noted.
But more needs to be done, Long said. There are “things that we advocated for in the budget world that are a deep priority, and we have to be able to rise above … the general noise for everything else that’s going on to get that attention.”
— Additional reporting by Yasmin Tadjdeh