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Will defense spending ever be fixed in DC

November 18, 2013

tanque_xilographic_styleDefense spending is always a hot topic in DC. From my point of view there are two different political approaches to the political side of defense spending in DC:

  • There are those that want to increase defense spending.
  • There are those that pretend they want to decrease defense spending.

Very few politicians in DC actually want to reduce defense spending. True reductions in defense spending would mean going against special interest groups that support DC politicians.

As some one who believes in a good defense capability I don’t want our military reduced to a point where it is unable to defend our country. At the same time I believe our military should be efficient in both capabilities and cost. Just last week I listened to top military officials tell Congress there is nothing left to cut without reducing capabilities of our military. Should we believe that? Or were these top military officials telling Congress what they wanted to hear so politicians could keep the status quo for defense spending. Or are these top defense officials saying they cannot make cuts simply because they don’t know where the money is going?

Often when having this debate I will mention military projects that Congress forces upon the Pentagon in order to please special interests. Some examples include

Items like these are “low-hanging fruit” for budget cuts. These cuts could be made immediately without undermining our defense capabilities. When researching defense cuts it is hard to find areas beyond this low-hanging fruit to highlight. An investigation being done by Reuters could explain why:

In its investigation, Reuters has found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.

The consequences aren’t only financial; bad bookkeeping can affect the nation’s defense. In one example of many, the Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies between 2003 and 2011 as it shuffled equipment between reserve and regular units. Affected units “may experience equipment shortages that could hinder their ability to train soldiers and respond to emergencies,” the Pentagon inspector general said in a September 2012 report.

Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.

It is kind of hard to determine where to make cuts when there is no good data to work from. It is believable that top defense officials cannot make more cuts simply because they don’t know where the money is going. Perhaps now is the time to look at prioritizing its ‘accounting readiness’. The Pentagon should make it a top priority to update and streamline accounting policies and technology used by the military. Then perhaps we could get real data to find out where defense cuts can be made. Better yet streamlining the defense accounting may actually save millions (or billions) of dollars that are currently being misappropriated or otherwise ‘lost’.

Now the bigger question is if the military-industrial complex would allow such a move to happen? Can we trust DC politicians to reduce spending on defense, even if that would make for a more efficient military? Personally I don’t believe the military-industrial complex and the DC politicians enabling the current defense spending system will allow that to happen.

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  1. November 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm
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