By Ralph Nader, Consumer advocate, lawyer and author
The federal government is currently in a state of shutdown thanks to a small faction of extremist Republicans who vehemently bellow that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have a catastrophic economic effect on our country. These members of Congress are so irrational about the ACA that they have caused the furlough of nearly 800,000 federal workers — some of whom handle vitally important tasks such as safety inspections, monitoring our food supply and detecting epidemic outbreaks. Congress, however, has failed to address the worst excesses in the federal budget — the bloated, highly wasteful military budget. More than half of federal discretionary spending now goes to the military budget. Many more taxpayer dollars are devoted to the Department of Defense than to the critical needs of our citizenry, including the flawed Obamacare which should be replaced with single payer — full Medicare for all.
Unfortunately, curbing the worst excesses of an out-of-control military industrial complex is not a front burner issue for the 40 or so Tea Party Republicans currently stomping their feet in Congress about health care reform. Instead, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has recently emerged as the de-facto leader of the opposition to Obamacare, has accused his opponents in Congress of “holding the military hostage” by not giving in to the demands of the extremists in his party.
So let us focus a critical lens on the Pentagon budget. Including all the extra expenditures for various unlawful overseas military exploits, the U.S. defense budget for 2013 is estimated to be around $716 billion (not counting defense expenses in other civilian departments.) To strike a comparison,China, the next biggest military spender, has a budget of $106 billion as reported by their government. Remarkably, you can add the military budgets of the next ten largest spending countries and still not match the U.S.’s astronomical military budget — which is fully half of the U.S. government’s entire operating budget, post Soviet Union, no less!
For far too long the American public has bought into the highly-profitable fear mongering and propaganda-spreading of corporate contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. President Eisenhower famously warned of the dangers of the military industrial complex in his farewell address. We’re now seeing the devastating result of unchecked, reckless spending on costly, unnecessary high-tech weapons of mass destruction. When it comes to spending, the Pentagon is stuck in Lockheed Martin’s horror shop of weaponized mayhem.
Which leads us the most important question — where do all these billions of dollars go? Don’t ask the Pentagon, because they can’t or won’t tell you. Years of poor expense managing and book balancing has led to so many documented cases of waste and fraud that it’s hard to keep up. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) every year declares the Pentagon budget to be “un-auditable.” The GAO website lists the DOD financial management as “High Risk”, reporting that:
“Significant financial and related business management systems and control weaknesses have adversely affected DOD’s ability to control costs; ensure basic accountability; anticipate future costs and claims on the budget; measure performance; maintain funds control; prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse; address pressing management issues; and prepare auditable financial statements.”
Here are just a few examples of the waste.
The Pentagon’s F-35 joint strike fighter program has already cost nearly $400 billion (70 percent higher than the initial cost estimate) and is plagued with hundreds of reliability and performance problems. Before that, it was the F-22 program which cost nearly $80 billion. Rife with its own production woes and cost overruns, 187 F-22’s were produced out of a planned 648. Not one of them has flown a combat mission. Even former combat pilot Sen. John McCain admits the whole project was a waste, based on military strategies that are no longer relevant.
The Navy’s latest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is expected to cost $12.8 billion — a 22 percent increase in cost since its construction began in 2008. (Notice a pattern?) The Pentagon expects to build three of them at a projected cost of $48 billion. The U.S. Navy currently has eleven aircraft carriers — not a single one of which is matched in size or capability by a vessel in the fleet of any other country on Earth. Despite the extraordinary cost and the lack of necessity, the Navy continues to request and be granted more of these behemoths.
Another Cold War-era weapon the Pentagon continues to fund construction of is nuclear submarines. The Navy has plans to build twelve new ballistic missile subs at an estimated cost of $100 billion. What potential global adversary exists today that warrants such a large fleet of nuke-armed submarines? Reducing our cache of nuclear weapons would itself save $35 billion — a move Russia says it would match.
Internal auditors for the Pentagon have discovered numerous cases of highly questionable overcharges by corporate contractors in Iraq like Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR. These overcharges on such services as fuel and meal delivery have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The eye-opening documentary Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers revealed some extraordinary examples–charging $100 for washing a bag of laundry and $45 for a case of soda.
Smaller wastes add up too. An internal audit from the Army Human Resources Command recently revealed that the Army paid $16 million to soldiers that were deserters or designated AWOL over a two-and-half year period. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released an oversight report last year that documented how DOD could save $67 billion over ten years by cutting such outrageous expenditures as “Pentagon-branded beef jerky”, “Pentagon-run microbreweries”, and “a smart phone app to alert users when to take a coffee break.”
Absurd spending sprees have become routine for the ravenous, corporatized military. According to a 2009 report from Mother Jones magazine, the military wasted about $296 billion in cost overruns in 2008. Imagine that–in one year, the United States blewabout two-thirds more in its poorly managed military budget then China spent on its military. The defense budget of the entire European Union in 2008 was $281 billion–still less than the Pentagon frittered away. Considering such a colossal failure in money management, where is the Tea Party? How can the self-proclaimed party of smaller government and fiscal responsibility look the other way? Talk about chronic hypocrisy!
On the eve of this week’s government shutdown, the Pentagon decided to go on an all out shopping spree. They awarded 94 contracts to various contractors totaling about $5 billion. Based on their track record, such an enormous overnight expenditure should raise some serious concerns in Congress.
Instead, House Republicans have chosen to make their stand on the potential bloated costs and excess wastes of the Affordable Care Act. Now seems like an ideal time to turn the attention to the $716 billion elephant in the room. If we are going to shutdown non-essentials in our country, let us start by shutting down the waste and fraud in our military budget.