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Bitter Enemies Join Forces to Spare Pentagon Deep Cuts


In recent months the Defense Department has been reviewing possible spending cuts to the Pentagon’s budget. On Monday, more than twenty military specialists from think tanks across the political spectrum will release a letter begging Congress to cut the fat and spare the muscle. Hoping to leave space in the budget for vital military priorities, representatives from the Cato Institute to the Center for American Progress want to close military bases and reduce the number of Pentagon employees.

This is Washington, so naturally when a broad, bipartisan consensus emerges around an issue, Congress does its best not to notice. WSJ:

Of the three proposals, cutting the Defense Department’s civilian workforce—which his risen to nearly 800,000—may be the most politically palatable.

But lawmakers already are challenging a Pentagon proposal to set up a new base closure commission. And politicians have largely rejected past Defense Department efforts to raise fees to pay for the military’s health-care benefits.

Congress is reveling in its own short-sightedness more than usual these days. Yesterday we learned that 20 percent of all bills it passes go to the vital national goal of naming post offices. Resisting calls to eliminate wasteful defense fluff—albeit fluff that plays well in home districts—is sadly par for the course.

Readers who are more interested in reform than our do-nothing Congress should consult a piece in the upcoming issue of The American Interest that lays out in detail some common sense cuts the Pentagon can make without hurting national security. Former Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim notes that, due to various budget-cutting mandates, the Defense Department will likely have to cut its budget by $60 billion every year until the end of the decade. He argues that there is a lot of low-hanging budgetary fruit. For example, the Pentagon could cut back in waste and fraud in contracting:

The Department of Defense wastes billions of dollars funding contracts in support of contingency operations. In the 2001–11 period, as much as $60 billion was squandered through waste, fraud and abuse, according to the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of those wasted funds came out of defense contracts. Yet contracting will not come to an end with the withdrawal of most American troops from Afghanistan. A force that could exceed 10,000 is likely to remain there for an indefinite period (assuming no regime change); contractors could constitute the majority of that force

Zakheim also proposes cuts in civilian personel, incentivizing early retirement for older officials, reforming military retirement and heath care, reducing waste in the management of base operations, selective cuts in domestic defense labs and military bases, and other ideas.

Read the whole thing to get a sense of where the Pentagon should go from here in making its spending cuts—if Congress will let it.

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  • ojfl

    That is why we need more principled politicians but that require more a principled electorate, an electorate not so concerned about “bringing home the bacon” but the welfare of the entire country. Hard decisions need to be made and if that means losing some federal spending in the districts so the country gets better, so be it.

  • Daniel Nylen

    The potential gains from “fraud and waste” are normally found to be an illusion. Rarely, if ever, have any gains from fraud and waste been realized in government spending. It might be the lack of incentives, but is more likely over-optimistic estimates of waste. Government contracting (my legal specialty) is complex with thousands of rules that seem to spend $3 to ensure $1 is not wasted to fraud. Separate accounting systems, audits, certifications, etc. all cost a tremendous overhead that government contractors pay and pass on to the taypayer. Perhaps duplicative services don’t make sense to an auditor, but having more than one supply line to ensure availability of critical parts to support combat isn’t waste, it is neccessary in a war.
    Duirng the recent conflict, large amounts of funds were spent quickly with an emphasis on results and speed. Contractors ran the post offices, fed the troops, did their laundry and a host of other services to keep more of the military actually fighting. Even trucking through potentially dangerous territory was often contracted out. Lots of money was spent, and this stream will now be substantially reduced. These savings appear to have already been claimed several times over by both politcal parties through several budgets.
    IMHO, any study that discusses large savings from fraud and abuse, discredits itself and paints that discredit across the rest of its results.

  • Steve Gerow

    Do-nothing Congress is a feature not a bug when it comes to thwarting the Democrats’ transformational, soft-tyrannical agenda.

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