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Taking on the Sacred Cow of the Federal Budget

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama proposed a three year spending freeze on all non-defense discretionary spending. It’s a budget policy I endorse, I just worry about the implementation.

Officials at the Pentagon aren’t worried though. In fact, the Defense Department plans to higher more workers. Politicians want to protect Americans, and they view defense spending as political capital to stay elected.

Anyone working in a branch of the Department of Defense should know that we could more than afford to tighten our belts. If President Obama forced the DoD to cut costs, trim spending, and lower it's budget, two things would happen: first, across the Air Force, Navy and Army we would become more efficient; second, our leaders would have to look at the budget and prioritize on issues that are immediately relevant, making us more effective in the long run.

Don’t kid yourself. If you wear a uniform, you know how much money we waste every year. Look at how units run their budgets. At the end of the fiscal year, all units in the Army, Air Force and Navy make sure they spend all their funding. Down to the last drop. Use it or lose it.

For example, units tend to always order their full allotment of ammunition. Even if they don’t expend it all during a training exercise, they fire it off at the end to ensure their allotment stays at the same level. In the Army, as across the Pentagon, you keep what you can get.

My critics will say that we are at war. I don't disagree. But my critics have to explain the vast amount of waste in the Army. Bagram Air Field serves shrimp and steak dinners to troops who have never seen combat. We station thousands of troops overseas for no ostensible purpose. In combat, we fire unnecessary bombs or artillery rounds at nothing. Contractors overcharge the government. Airmen receive combat and hazardous duty pay while stationed at Qatar and Kyrgyzstan (Sorry Yates). I could go on (and I will in future posts). We have more Generals in uniform now than in WWII (and they have retired Generals contracted to advise them).

In good businesses, managers can both increase profits and drive down costs. In good households, savers earn more and keep their costs down. In both of those examples, tightening budgets is a good thing, so why is the Pentagon exempt? The Pentagon should embrace budget cuts, not fear political repercussions.

(And I don't usually say, hey Speaker of the House Pelosi agrees with me, but even she has called for something similar.)

ten comments

In my college days, student groups would do the same thing, running through money so they didn’t have to give it back. Really unfortunate and really wasteful.


Good luck…


The cost expected for the expansion of Caserma Ederle in Vicenza? 375 million. For the airfield in Wiesbaden? 300 million. The US Military can spend money on superfluous things like crazy, but don´t expect a major payraise for soldiers anytime soon, and expect a statement of charges if you need a bootlace replaced.


Will thank you for the well wishes. I notice you didn’t say I was wrong.

Chris C- Two more great examples wasteful money in the Army system. This thought just frustrates me. I mean, every other organization on the planet becomes more efficient with tighter budgets, but not government.


Along the “business” allegorical lines, would you consider a privatized military more efficient?


I would say that a privatized military wouldn’t be more efficient, because they would cut costs in areas the regular military finds unnacceptable.


I love how “budget cutters” always focus on defense. Returning the unused portion of the “stimulus” and allowing the TARP money repaid, with interest, by the banks would be a good start. The “stimulus” bill ($787 billion) really did nothing and was over $200 billion more than the defense budget. In fact, the interest on our debt, every 2.5 years, is more than defense spending.


@ Harrison – 1. Why don’t we do both? it’s like with Health Care. Republicans only want tort reform, but Democrats say it is only a fraction of health care costs, but I still want Tort reform.

With Defense spending, surely you’re not endorsing government waste?

Also, Defense spending is about 500 billion, (23% of the total budget) with outside wars raising it to 600 billion.


In a perfect world, we would do both. We don’t live in a perfect world however so why not go after the easier stuff first?

Let’s take the space shuttle, which has 4 more missions to go and then it’s dead. I’m 99% sure that all 50 states contributed at least 1 part to the shuttle, making it impossible to kill.

Rumsfeld tried to re-shape the military by killing certain programs that weren’t responsive to current world conditions. Politicians from both parties made that task very difficult. But “reform” has been an ongoing task with the defense budget.

You could look into any budget anywhere and find “government waste” but I think it’s a better idea to tackle the biggest wasters first.

Republicans don’t only want “tort reform” they drafted a healthcare bill with many other things in it. Dems let it die on conference committee.


1. I agree with the space shuttle.

2. We’re a milblog, so if we’re talking government waste, we are talking military spending.

I just think if we fundamentally transformed how the military’s budget worked, we would save money for years to come.