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Why Is the Most Wasteful Government Agency Not Part of the Deficit Discussion?

Any serious battle plan to reduce the deficit must take on the Pentagon.
 
 
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 In all the talk about the federal deficit, why is the single largest culprit left out of the conversation? Why is the one part of government that best epitomizes everything conservatives say they hate about government—- waste, incompetence, and corruption—all but exempt from conservative criticism?

Of course, I’m talking about the Pentagon. Any serious battle plan to reduce the deficit must take on the Pentagon. In 2011 military spending accounted for more than 58 percent of all federal discretionary spending and even more if the interest on the federal debt that is related to military spending were added. In the last ten years we have spent more than $7.6 trillion on military and homeland security according to the National Priorities Project.

In the last decade military spending has soared from $300 billion to $700 billion.


When debt ceilings and deficits seem to be the only two items on Washington’s agenda, it is both revealing and tragic that both parties give a free pass to military spending. Representative Paul Ryan’s much discussed Tea Party budget accepted Obama’s proposal for a pathetic $78 billion reduction in military spending over 5 years, a recommendation that would only modestly slow the rate of growth of military spending.

Indeed, the Republican government battering ram appears to have stopped at the Pentagon door. This was evident early on. As soon as they took over the House of Representatives, Republicans changed the rules so that military spending does not have to be offset by reduced spending somewhere else, unlike any other kind of government spending. It is the only activity of government they believe does not have to be paid for. Which brings to mind a bit of wisdom from one of their heroes, Adam Smith. “Were the expense of war to be defrayed always by revenue raised within the year … wars would in general be more speedily concluded, and less wantonly undertaken.”

The Tea Party revolution has only strengthened the Republican Party’s resolve that the Pentagon’s budget is untouchable. An analysis by the Heritage Foundation of Republican votes on defense spending found that Tea Party freshmen were even more likely than their Republican elders to vote against cutting any part of the military budget.

What makes the hypocrisy even more revealing is that the Pentagon turns out to be the poster child for government waste and incompetence.

In 2009 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found “staggering” cost overruns of almost $300 billion in nearly 70 percent of the Pentagon’s 96 major weapons. What’s more, the programs were running, on average, 21 months behind schedule. And when they were completed, they provided less than they promised.

The Defense Logistics Agency had no use for parts worth more than half of the $13.7 billion in equipment stacked up in DOD warehouses in 2006 to 2008.

And these are only the tips of the military’s misspending iceberg. We really don’t know how much the Pentagon wastes because, believe it or not, there hasn’t been a complete audit of the Pentagon in more than 15 years.

In 1994, the Government Management Reform Act required the Inspector General of each federal agency to audit and publish the financial statements of their agency. The Department of Defense was the only agency that has been unable to comply. In fiscal 1998 the Department of Defense used $1.7 trillion of undocumentable adjustments to balance the books. In 2002 the situation was even worse. CBS News reported that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted, “we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.”

Imagine that a school district were to reveal that it didn’t know where it spent its money. Now imagine the Republican response. Perhaps, “Off with their desktops!”

 
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