We’re heading toward a national budget crisis that could dwarf economic problems in Europe. Politicians offer no concrete solution to this crisis, only vague comments about controlling government spending and reducing the deficit. Our national budget exceeds $3 trillion; each 1 percent cut equals more than $30 billion.
Without getting into acrimonious debate about entitlements and government dependence, let’s focus on a part of the federal budget that is so important in Southern Maryland — the Department of Defense.
The DoD drives the economic activity in the region. How and how much the government cuts the DoD budget will impact on the economy of Southern Maryland. The defense budget appears bloated when viewed over a span of 12 years.
In fiscal year 2000, DoD received less than $300 billion. In 2011, the DoD budget was $687 billion — more than double. In 2012, the defense budget was reduced slightly to $646 billion — a 3 percent cut. If we remove $115 billion allocated for overseas contingency operations (wars in the Middle East), we still have a base DoD budget of $531 billon, and that’s about 80 percent more than in 2000. The DoD budget grew at a rate substantially greater than the personal income of the U.S. citizens and much greater than inflation.
We should be able to cut the DoD budget substantially without national consequences. But how would that cut impact Southern Maryland? The answer, of course, is whether the cuts are made intelligently or politically. The three largest categories of expenditures in the DoD budget are operations and maintenance ($283 billion in 2010), military personnel ($154 billion) and procurement ($140 billion).
Procurement cuts could have significant impact on this area, as they might cut major programs of local importance. The reductions should be taken in operations and maintenance, and military personnel.
We have about 220,000 military personnel stationed in 144 countries around the world. We should bring home the 100,000 troops stationed in Europe. The Soviet threat has not existed for more than two decades. Russian tanks are not poised to conquer Europe.
That European presence is a mission our DoD should no longer support. Those troops can be withdrawn and returned to civilian life, reallocated to serious global hotspots or used in some domestic program such as border defense.
Bringing them home would allow deep cuts in the operations and maintenance, and military personnel accounts without a negative impact on Southern Maryland. An expanded naval presence would accomplish more than forces in Europe and provide the agility we need to react to world crises.
Finally, removal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan will save lives — the most important saving. That withdrawal will trim most of the overseas contingency operations portion of the defense budget — more than $100 billion per year.
Aleck Loker of Williamsburg, Va., is a St. Mary’s County native who worked more than 30 years for the Navy at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the last three as executive director. He later served as director of economic development and county administrator for St. Mary’s County.