The killing of Osama bin Laden Sunday was a stunning victory for the U.S. defense and intelligence community and a tribute to the efforts of Presidents Bush and Obama to hunt him down. The nearly 10-year quest to find the al Qaeda leader is over, even if the larger war against terrorism and other national security challenges are not.
At this moment of triumph, lawmakers may be tempted to give the Pentagon and other defense agencies a pass when it comes to enacting sensible spending reforms. That is the worst possible outcome for the nation. In the midst of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan launched the Grace Commission, whose recommendations showed it was possible to cut wasteful defense spending and improve the agility of our military without reducing U.S. security. In fact, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has stated that the greatest threat to national security is our debt, and noted that the $600 billion in projected interest on the debt in 2012 will be nearly equal to the entire DOD budget.
TheStreet.Com report today that defense expenditures have totaled $6.5 trillion over the last 10 years. During that time – and, indeed since it became a requirement for all federal agencies in 1989 under the Chief Financial Officers Act (one of the Grace Commission’s recommendations) – the Pentagon has not had a single clean audit. Why? Here’s the department’s excuse: “The DOD obligates an average of $2 billion to $3 billion every business day and handles hundreds of thousands of payment transactions, which take place in thousands of worldwide locations, including war zones … Because of DOD’s size and mission requirements, it is not feasible to deploy a vast number of accountants to manually reconcile our books.”
Lawmakers must challenge this mindset.
In his budget address last month President Obama announced his plan to cut $400 billion in security spending in the next two years. Republican Paul Ryan’s budget includes Secretary Robert Gates $178 billion in cuts, only $78 billion of which would not be reinvested in the military.
Without an audit it is difficult to tell exactly how much spending could be cut without damaging our security efforts. But, with $2 to $3 billion going out the door every day, there are certainly places to cut. TheStreet mentions the F/A-18E/F fighter planes as one possibility. A February Slate article also outlined some ideas. CAGW will soon release its Prime Cuts report that will outline many more options, including eliminating the Medium Extended Air Defense System, the Army’s Future Combat System program for a one-year savings of $2.3 billion and the V-22 aircraft for a one-year savings of $308 million. In what CAGW thought was a victory for taxpayers, lawmakers eliminated the $3 billion for the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter in the fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution (CR). That followed a vote of 233-198 in the House on February 16 to cut the funds from a prior version of the CR. Unfortunately, according to HuffingtonPost.Com, the House Armed Services Committee is poised to overturn the will of Congress and put money for the alternate engine into the fiscal year 2012 DOD Authorization Act.
On November 30, 2011, CAGW signed a letter with all of the major national fiscal conservative organizations, calling on Republicans in the House and Senate to move forward on spending reform without exempting the military. The letter noted that DOD spending “has been provided protected status that has isolated it from serious scrutiny and allowed the Pentagon to waste billions in taxpayer money.” Noting that defense spending had increased by 86 percent since 1998, the letter said that there should be “no sacred cows” in the effort to decrease the size of government, and that “[T]rue fiscal stewards cannot eschew real spending reform by protecting pet projects in the federal budget. Any such Department of Defense favoritism would signal that the new Congress is not serious about fiscal responsibility and not ready to lead.” The groups continue to be united in this cause.
Americans should be proud of their military at all times, especially now. As the war against terrorism and other efforts to protect our national security continue, so does the struggle to increase the efficiency of the Department of Defense, in which success will be measured in part by cutting out all unnecessary spending.