Defending our nation and its citizens is one of the most important responsibilities of the Federal Government. Our continued freedom depends, in large part, on the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces around the globe. Equipping and protecting those who serve in the military is without question the top priority of the Department of Defense – and the dollars prove it.
The U.S. spends more on defense (over $600 billion) than the next seven countries combined, accounts for 15 percent of the federal budget – representing half of all discretionary spending. Despite The Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Military Strength report finding the United States’ military posture “marginal,” trending towards “weak,” importantly, it concedes that “the current U.S. military force is likely capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities.” The report, Congress, and military leaders all cite combat “readiness” as the major factor in the military’s downward trend, but those numbers are easy to manipulate.
“The reason the Pentagon’s budget is now on a long-term upswing is because the military has spent years loudly lobbying for such an increase while complaining about an alleged “readiness crisis,” says Gordon Adams, the senior White House budget official for national security from 1993 to 1997. “My follow-up with the Pentagon’s civil servants made it clear that the measures they were using were rigged to show low levels of readiness; they set standards that called units “ready” only if they had every capability imaginable to fight a major ground war, and they counted as “unready” units that were back from deployments and had missed a training slot for that big war, one they would soon be scheduled to receive.”
While we should listen seriously to the Pentagon’s requests and concerns, the larger issue lies with Congress and their attention to detailed oversight. It is simply not true that our military is falling behind because it lacks adequate funding. And despite popular opinion in Congress, throwing massive amounts of money at the Pentagon does not help the warfighter, it only leads to waste without a clear and concise plan for that spending and rigorous oversight. America still has the greatest military in the world, and it has never been safer.
For more than two decades the Pentagon has been unable to complete a financial audit. In recent years we learned it cannot provide adequate documentation for $6.5 trillion worth of year-end adjustments and it has failed to pursue reforms that could save billions. Waste and inefficiency runs rampant in the Department of Defense. Yet, Congress does little to address these issues, presumably, to look more “pro-military” to voters (as if any of our Representatives in Congress are “anti-military”). Areas inside the DoD ripe for improvement include its spending on overhead costs, unneeded personnel and bases, and procurement.
The Pentagon’s overhead costs would rank 49th in gross domestic product if matched up with every other nation in the world, and the Defense Business Board (DBB) has criticized the DoD for its lack of innovation.
Personnel is perhaps one of the larger structural issue inside the DoD. There are about 1.3 million total active duty service members, but only 150,000 are deployed. Of the 1.2 million not deployed, almost 400,000 are serving in commercial roles, costing taxpayers $54 billion every year. These positions include support, supply, transportation, communications, morale, welfare, and recreation support. The DBB calls this a “poor use of our most expensive personnel – active duty military.” If just one-third of active duty military in commercial roles were replaced with civilians, it would save $53 billion over ten years.
Another way to reduce overhead and personnel costs could come from closing unneeded military bases. Blessed by our most senior military officers, closing bases remains a heated political issue in Congress. “Members focus on parochial concerns, such as jobs lost, and the negative economic impact on surrounding communities,” says Christopher Preble of Politico.
Finally, the Pentagon spends a good chunk of their budget on procurement. This year, auditors found the Pentagon’s procurement agency, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), lost track of $800 million. The audit “found that misstatements in the agency’s books totaled at least $465 million for construction projects it financed” and “didn’t have sufficient documentation — or any documentation at all — for another $384 million worth of spending.” An agency responsible for over 100,000 daily defense related orders that can’t keep its books in order should concern taxpayers and Congress.
While the DoD is a bloated government agency, there are some bright spots to report. An audit of the DoD is currently underway and procurement processes are beginning to change from taxpayers paying for cost overruns, to contractors paying for overruns. Reforms like streamlining DoD bureaucracy and overhead are essential to rebuilding America’s military. Since it is necessary soldiers have what they need in order to do their job safely and effectively, eliminating or reforming costly non-essential Pentagon programs should be a top priority.
What if I told you the current U.S. Secretary of Defense and the previous Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both agree that our greatest national security threat is not another country or terrorist organization, but our national debt.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis:
“The foundation of military strength is our economic strength. In a few short years paying interest on our debt will be a bigger bill than what we pay for defense. Much of that interest money is destined to leave America for overseas. If we refuse to reduce our debt/pay down our deficit, what is the impact on national security for future generations who will inherit this irresponsible debt and the taxes to service it? No nation in history has maintained its military power if it failed to keep its fiscal house in order.”
Admiral Michael Mullen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
“The most significant threat to our national security is our debt, and the reason I say that is because the ability for our country to resource our military — and I have a pretty good feeling and understanding about what our national security requirements are — is going to be directly proportional — over time, not next year or the year after, but over time — to help our economy. That’s why it’s so important that the economy move in the right direction, because the strength and the support and the resources that our military uses are directly related to the health of our economy over time.”
We’ve written about it hundreds of times, but the strength of America relies on her economic prosperity. A growing national debt limits economic growth and crowds out opportunity. Long term deficits could lead to economic disasters, inflation, and high interest rates that send more tax dollars to pay off interest on our debt rather than priorities like education, infrastructure, and not the least of which, defense.