The government is wasting its money on education and “entitlements,” cry the conservatives while they wring their hands about the failure of Social Security and Medicare to pay for itself. At the same time, Congress just passed a $619 billion budget for “defense,” up from $602 billion last year. That’s over one-third of the government’s “discretionary” funds. Their excuse is that the United States has to protect itself—maybe more valid now that President-elect Donald Trump (DT) is “shaking up” relationships with foreign countries such as China (aka alienating them).
An internal study obtained by the Washington Post shows $125 billion within five years in waste within the military. The annual $25 billion waste is more than this year’s budget increase. The $125 billion savings could come from early retirement and modernization of systems. The Pentagon spends almost one-fourth of its budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management. The back-office staff of 1,014,000 contractors, civilians, and uniformed personnel supports 1.3 million.
Last spring, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project of the Center for International Policy, wrote about the “military waste machine.” He described how the Army pays $8,000 for helicopter gears worth $500, $2.7 billion for “an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work,” and “billions of dollars’ worth of weapons components that will never be used.” Private companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton built such projects in Afghanistan as “a multimillion-dollar `highway to nowhere,’ a $43 million gas station in nowhere, a $25 million ‘state of the art’ headquarters for the U.S. military in Helmand Province . . . that no one ever used, and the payment of actual salaries to countless thousands of no ones aptly labeled ‘ghost soldiers.’ ” Last year, Pro Publica created an interactive graphic revealing $17 billion in wasteful U.S. spending uncovered by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.
People get outraged by $640 toilet seats but overlook the unbelievable cost of the F-35 jet, originally priced at $233 million despite its unusability. Even pilot’s helmets cost $400,000. With a projected 2,000 purchased, the expenditure will be astronomical. Just three months ago, the Air Force grounded ten of its first F-35 fighters. The policy is that the military will continue to throw more good money after bad because it’s already spent too much to quit. This site details many of the F-35 problems.
Above the defense budget is the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, started by George W. Bush in 2001 to exceed the general military budget and now used as a war slush fund because anything can be purchased with it. Last spring, the House Armed Services Committee chair, Texas GOP Mac Thornberry, suggested providing $18 billion from this extra budget for an additional 11—useless—F-35 combat aircraft and 14 F-18 fighter-bombers that the Pentagon didn’t request. Right now the OCO is at $60 billion but could go up to $100 billion or higher.
Other money from the military comes from other programs worth about $10 billion each year, for example training and arming programs in 180 countries paid for by the State Department’s budget. More money is spent through the over $70 million in secret spending for everything from spying to high-tech weaponry.
Another “secret” is the funding for the B-21, the Air Force’s new nuclear bomber, that officials claim must be kept secret because there is “a strong correlation between the cost of an air vehicle and its total weight.” The excuse is used to avoid bad publicity from program costs that could go above $100 billion as part of a three-decade splurge of $1 trillion, a guess at expenditures before the typical of Pentagon overruns of sometimes four times.
To avoid trouble with its expenditures, the Pentagon developed the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” aka the Navy’s submarine slush fund. The idea is to separate costs for the new ballistic missile submarine program, slated to pay $139 billion for 12 subs, from the new surface ships that the Navy wants. The Air Force wants its own “strategic deterrence fund” for a planned bomber and a long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile.
Despite a congressional mandate 25 years ago, the Pentagon fails to hold an audit. The Pentagon doesn’t know how much equipment it has, how much it’s being overcharged, and how many contractors it employs. Yet Congress keeps increasing the military budget because it’s a huge employer in their states—making equipment that the nation doesn’t need. Congressional members do this because they will keep getting elected—and now they have another excuse. DT wants everyone to look tough.
An attempted audit from the Defense Department of the Army showed trillions of dollars in accounting mistakes, fudging, and missing receipts or invoices to support its budget figures. Over 16,000 files had disappeared from the computer system of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) because of a computing software flaw. And they’ve spent $6 billion thus far on the botched audit.
With at least 900 bases outside its borders, the U.S. has troops stationed in 175 foreign nations and wages or threatens war in other nations that don’t have U.S. troops such as Syria and Iran. In many cases, these bases are resented and hated, causing attacks against the U.S.—and the cost is over $100 billion a year.
Congressional members don’t mind wasting taxpayer money as long as these funds bring jobs to their state. Closing bases no longer needed would save $2 billion a year—a pittance when considering the bloated military budget—but a start. Congress responded to President Obama’s request to close these facilities by banning any studies of unneeded bases. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) got $640 million to build a National Security Cutter that the Coast Guard said it doesn’t need. Thanks to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Maine got an extra $1 billion for a Navy destroyer to be built at the Bath Iron Works, again not requested by the Defense Department.
No one wants the “Littoral Combat Ship” (LCS) program for a ship that sails close to shore because the LCSs broke down at sea. Yet Austal USA, located in Alabama, got $3.5 billion for the contract. And Guantanamo costs the nation $454 million annually at a cost of $2.7 million per inmate. Congress insists on keeping the prison open.
A tremendous amount of money is lost to privatization. Oversight is almost impossible because the Pentagon has 1.7 million contracts open plus its system of “cost-plus” contracting. The more a private company charges, the higher the bonus—usually ten percent—no matter how bad the work is. Defense companies lobbying government officials and legislators to fight defense spending cuts and push for their contracts has made the military industry the eighth-largest sector in the nation. Their $100 million in lobbying fees brings in billions of dollars.
The worship of the military has led to a serious case of “affluenza” as the Pentagon eats up two-thirds of the federal government’s discretionary funds. By comparison, the departments of education, interior, and transportation cost taxpayers $95 billion, far less that the $750 billion spent on everything from golf courses around the world to a vastly increased number of three- and four-star generals and admirals. Chris Christie’s suggestion to solve the national debt was to take the $500 million from Planned Parenthood, equivalent to two F-35 jet fighters.
Any criticism of the military since 9/11 is taken as a betrayal of our nation’s ideals; the GOP campaigns on the falsehood that the military is being “gutted.” The GOP has convinced almost half the people in the United States that more money needs to poured into the military. DT’s slogan of “Make America Great Again” is translated as vastly increasing the military and having bigger and better killing toys.
This waste is nothing new: I wrote about it a year ago. And the year before that. And I’m sure I’ll be writing about it next year, especially because DT, the hawks he nominated for his cabinet, and the GOP-controlled Congress that will take money from the people of the United States to throw it at the Pentagon.