How much waste is included in the $580 billion dollar per year Defense budget?
Critics of President Obama’s reductions in the military will tell you that we have cut beyond the bone. The reduction from nearly $700B in 2008, achieved largely by reducing personnel in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, has been impressive. But does this leave the military starved and incapable of doing its primary job of defending the United States around the world?
It’s been hard to tell because the Pentagon has proved unauditable for decades. But a new report shows that at least $25 billion every year cannot be justified no matter how you look at it. And the details of the report suggest that even a modest restructuring can save tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars without in any way hindering the men and women on the front lines.
The report came from the Defense Business Board, an organization charged with knowing exactly how the Department of Defense (DoD) does its business. It was brought to the Washington Post, which released the details in devastating detail.
For example, the military currently has 1.3 million active duty military personnel among the four major branches. Of these, about 3oo thousand have desk jobs, meaning that about 1 million are out in the field. But they are matched by 445 thousand civilians employed by the Defense Department and 268 thousand contractors. This adds up to over a million desk jobs in total.
For every soldier out getting his or her butt shot at, there is another person sitting behind a desk doing …. something.
The same study showed that a quarter of the $580 billion was spent on overhead in accounting, human resources, logistics, and property management. That’s not an entirely useful figure, of course, since logistics is a key part of any military operation. But it does speak to the potential waste which is easily identified even if you assume that the current structure and overhead of the military is ideal.
Another organization which oversees the DoD is the Government Accountability Office (GAO). They issue reports on the DoD at a rate of about 12 per year, according to their website. But the scope of their findings is rather chilling in that they invariably report that they cannot report. Reports filed in 2016 include the titles, “Defense Infrastructure: More Accurate Data Would Allow DOD to Improve the Tracking, Management, and Security of Its Leased Facilities” and “Military Base Realignments and Closures: More Guidance and Information Needed to Take Advantage of Opportunities to Consolidate Training”
Translation: Our major finding is that we don’t know and can’t know given how messed up everything is.
You don’t have to read too far into these reports to see how dire the situation is. The first report from the GAO starts out like this:
While the Department of Defense (DOD) is taking some steps to address data issues, it cannot fully determine the number, size, and costs of its leases for real property because its Real Property Assets Database (RPAD), the real property inventory system that DOD uses to report on its leased assets, contains some inaccurate and incomplete data. GAO found that about 15 percent of the RPAD lease records for fiscal year 2011 and 10 percent of the records for fiscal year 2013 were inaccurate.
The potential savings for straightening out the mess? Who knows? And all of this presumes that there is a perfectly valid reason to maintain 700 United States bases overseas – including 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan and 83 in South Korea, as well as hundreds more in some 70 countries from Aruba to Kenya to Thailand.
The additional personnel cost alone for overseas deployment is estimated at $85 billion every year, even before the rent, maintenance, and other costs of facilities are taken into consideration.
Is it possible to pull something like $145 billion, or a quarter, out of the DoD budget without affecting operations? The short answer is that yes, it is perfectly reasonable without harming the ability of any soldier or sailor from doing their job.
To keep that in perspective, that’s a bit over $1,300 per year for every household in America, or a solid $100 per month. It’s also a solid quarter of the way towards a universal health care system, if you want to go that route – and certainly enough to make sure that everyone in the US has health insurance.
The problem with DoD analysis has always been that we don’t have any solid numbers to be sure what waste there is. We do now. The previous rough estimate of a quarter is proven to be at least ballpark. That would mean that we would have to go from one desk jockey per soldier and sailor to just one for every two people in the field – but that’s a sacrifice I think that these brave souls can make for our nation.