I regularly spill coffee somewhere between the kitchen and my office. It happens when I’m walking from one to the other with a brimming cup of freshly brewed joe.
It drives my wife batty. Apparently it does the same to someone at the Pentagon — so much so that they commissioned a taxpayer-funded study entitled: “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?”
Alas, $170,000 later, the good professors of the University of California were unable to unravel this mystery, so vital to our national security. They concluded that “the motions of the human body, while seemingly regular, are quite complex and are coupled to a coffee cup and liquid therein, which makes it difficult to unravel the precise reasons behind coffee spilling.”
They should have just asked my dear wife. She’d tell them that only idiots walk with a full cup and no lid.
But then, unlike the Pentagon, my wife doesn’t have unlimited discretion to spend as much tax money as she likes without any pretense at accountability…
Quick: What’s your gut reaction when someone criticizes the U.S. military?
It’s probably something between suspicion and hostility. After all, we’re saturated with the idea that, despite what crusty old James Madison thought, “the troops” are the pinnacle of American achievement; they “give us our liberty.” They deserve the best we can give them.
However well-intentioned, this carefully cultivated protective instinct enables some serious rip-offs by unscrupulous contractors, ambitious bureaucrats and irresponsible legislators … swindles that positively harm ordinary soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
If You or I Tried This…
The U.S. will spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more than at the height of the Cold War, and more than the next seven nations combined. If the Overseas Contingency Operations (war) account, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, nuclear warhead production, military aid and interest on military-related national debt are included, the figure reaches $1 trillion. Every year.
The Department of Defense, however, is the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit. It’s required to do so under the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, but in 25 years, it never has.
The Pentagon’s comptroller, Mike McCord, says this is because his is “an organization that’s all about getting the mission done and this has not been, and probably never will be, seen as the department’s primary mission.”
Try that excuse next time you miss your IRS filing deadline.
Whether or not its neglect of proper accounting is “cultural,” as McCord claims, that lack of accountability allows the Pentagon to use the national credit card on whatever it pleases … at any cost. All it has to do is say “the troops” in a congressional hearing, and legislators swoon and increase the card’s limit like a besotted older gent with a hot, young trophy wife.
For example, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction recently investigated a $3 million contract for a demonstration natural gas station. The final price tag wound up at $42.7 million, $20 million of which was “overhead.” For a gas station. The Pentagon couldn’t explain it, saying those responsible had retired.
The House Armed Services Committee chair, Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, recently proposed taking $18 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operations account to cover an extra 11 F-35 combat aircraft and 14 F-18 fighter-bombers … planes that the Pentagon doesn’t even want. That’s because Thornberry is in thrall to donors such as Lockheed Martin, which runs the troubled F-35 program — the most expensive weapons system in history on a plane that is still unready for combat — and Boeing, which is desperate to keep its F-18 production line open even though the Navy doesn’t want any more.
Thornberry’s $18 billion for unnecessary planes will come from funds for troop training and maintenance of equipment in active war zones.
Then there’s the two dozen foreign military aid programs at $10 billion each. (Those are only the biggest ones. The U.S. actually provides arms and training to 180 of the planet’s 196 countries.) The Pentagon is the only foreign-assistance agency that doesn’t have to submit an annual budget to Congress, so nobody really knows how much the Pentagon is spending overseas, why or with what effect.
To top it all off, the Pentagon plans to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades on new nuclear bombers, submarines and missiles. This will hit our wallets in the mid-2020s, when wildly expensive systems like the F-35 will also be hitting peak production.
One Obama administration official said he and his colleagues were “wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it, and thanking our lucky stars we won’t be here to answer the question.”
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?
Most of today’s legislators, bureaucrats and Pentagon brass won’t have to deal with the results of their uncontrolled military spending. If they’re still alive, they’ll probably be working as executives or consultants to the defense contractors to whom they’ve given our money. Or they’ll be retired on six-digit taxpayer-funded annual pensions.
But you and I will definitely be affected. We’ll be suffering from the results of federal debt, neglected national infrastructure and services and higher taxes. And I have a feeling that the adversaries at whom all this spending is ostensibly directed will still be alive and kicking.
I’m curious to know what you think of military spending. Should we trust the Pentagon to look after our interests or crack down? Email me, and let me know what you think.
Editor, The Bauman Letter