As President Trump and Congress begin discussions on how best to provide for our national defense, Restore Accountability takes a closer look at Defense spending and the urgent need for greater accountability.  

Defending our nation and its citizens is one of the most important responsibilities of the Federal government. Our continued freedom depends, in large part, on the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces around the globe.

Defense BudgetTo support this vital mission, the Pentagon currently has a $585 billion budget, which translates to $0.15 for every $1 spent by the Federal government. As one of the largest items in the Federal budget, Congress has a solemn obligation to ensure that every dollar spent is essential to the nation's defense and to the success of the men and women serving in uniform. Indeed, our future ability to defend this nation depends on our commitment to budgetary discipline. 

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has previously noted: “The foundation of military strength is our economic strength. In a few short years paying interest on our debt will be a bigger bill than what we pay for defense. Much of that interest money is destined to leave America for overseas. If we refuse to reduce our debt/pay down our deficit, what is the impact on national security for future generations who will inherit this irresponsible debt and the taxes to service it? No nation in history has maintained its military power if it failed to keep its fiscal house in order."

Because of its relative size and importance, the Pentagon's budget must be scrutinized. In fact, there is clear evidence that inefficient and ineffective DOD spending is contributing to our fiscal decline and impacting the ability of our military to fight future battles. 

Consider that for two decades the Pentagon has been unable to submit an audit, and cannot provide adequate documentation for $6.5 trillion worth of year-end adjustments.

Defense GDPMoreover, recent reports have questioned the Pentagon’s use of funds and its force structure. In addition, the Defense Business Board (DBB) has criticized the Department of Defense’s (DOD) mammoth overhead costs, which would rank 49th in gross domestic product if matched up with every other nation in the world.

According to the DBB, “There has been an explosion of overhead work because the Department has failed to establish adequate controls to keep it in line relative to the size of the warfight.”

Currently there are about 1.3 million total active duty service members, but only 150,000 are deployed. Of the 1.2 million not deployed, almost 400,000 are serving in commercial roles, costing taxpayers $54 billion every year. These positions include support, supply, transportation, communications, morale, welfare, and recreation support. The DBB calls this a “poor use of our most expensive personnel – active duty military.” If just one-third of active duty military in commercial roles were replaced with civilians, it would save $53 billion over ten years.

However, the questions on overhead don’t end there. Recently, the Defense Business Board identified a “clear path to saving over $125 billion in the next five years,” at the Pentagon. However, some at the Pentagon, “amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget” buried the report, which was initially supposed to be released in 2015.

According to the Washington Post, “The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.”

Reforms like streamlining Defense bureaucracy and overhead are essential to rebuilding America’s military. Since it is necessary soldiers have what they need in order to do their job safely and effectively, eliminating or reforming costly non-essential Pentagon programs should be a top priority.

Defense R&DFor example, non-military research and development that has little or nothing to do with national defense now totals $6 billion. A recent DOD study used fish to find out if ignorance can save democracy. Furthermore, there have been reports of increased duplication within the Department of Defense. The Department of Everything, an oversight report, uncovered a research project that was funded twice in the same year by DOD and once by the National Science Foundation.

Like other Federal agencies, the Pentagon is no stranger to wasteful spending. Many readers might be familiar with the DOD’s lack of price controls when it purchased $37 screws, $2,000 nuts, $500 hammers, and a $600 toilet seat. Just this past year a Restore Accountability reader uncovered a $500,000 5-star ski resort trip by the DOD in Colorado. What’s more, the Department of Defense’s improper travel payments account for almost half a billion dollars.

Defense TravelAccording to a recent DOD Inspector General report, “DOD spent nearly $6 billion on travel in fiscal year 2014, $458 million of which was improperly paid out because Department officials simply failed to follow existing policies and procedures and approved travel expense reimbursements for airfare, hotels, and rental cars without receipts, incomplete vouchers, or vouchers with amounts that did not match the receipt.”

Not only does this lack of transparency and oversight waste taxpayer funds, but it also harms the warfighter and his or her ability to receive the support and supplies they need for battle.

Equipping and protecting those who serve in the military is without question the top priority of the Department of Defense. However, as  the debate on how best to achieve these critical objectives gets underway, oversight and reform should be an essential part of the plan. Not only will this ensure our active duty troops have what they need for battle, it will strengthen our nation.

For further reading on the military budget and ways it can be reformed to better serve our country, read the reports we cited including: Department of EverythingDOD Back in Black, and the Defense Business Board reports (III).