Late last week the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, reported to the president and the Congress on the current state of enforcement of the discretionary spending caps set forth in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Admittedly, this might not sound very exciting to the average citizen. But Washington is full of people who are just waiting for reports like this, and I’m one of those people.
And although the president proposed a budget that pretty much ignored the caps and Congress adopted a budget that end-ran around them by dumping billions of extra defense spending into the “emergency” Overseas Contingency Operations account, nobody actually changed the existing law, so the caps remain in place. With only five weeks to go before the beginning of the new fiscal year, Congress still hasn’t sent the president any of the dozen spending bills to fund government next year. In a report reviewing the House version of the Defense Appropriations bill for next year, Donovan noted that if the bill were to be signed into law, the caps would be breached and a sequestration of $3 million in Pentagon spending would be required. If the Senate version is enacted, a $1 million sequestration would be required.
Yes, you read that right. No, I didn’t accidentally type million when I meant billion. The horrible specter of sequestration that the Pentagon and, not coincidentally, corporations whose major customers are the military services have been bleating about for two years is nothing so terribly scary. It’s possible the Pentagon may need to cut either $1 million or $3 million next year.
Of course, there was a budgetary sleight of hand that made this possible. While the official Pentagon budget is only a little over the limit, the true Pentagon budget is nearly $100 billion over the cap set by the Budget Control Act. This is because Congress wants to stuff $94 billion into the Overseas Contingency Operations (war-fighting) account that isn’t subject to the caps. Besides nearly doubling the already over-generous amount requested by the Pentagon, this budget diet scheme will add a lot of costly pounds to the nation’s fiscal waistline.
If they were serious about heeding the Budget Control Act’s limits, we came up with this comprehensive, and serious, list of contenders for budget cuts. But it’s the end of August and not terribly much is going on in Washington as most people are in cooler climes for at least a few more days. So, to keep this light here are a few less serious ways the Pentagon can trim its budget to eliminate the $1 million to $3 million overage in the fake budget.
Family of Non-Lethal Equipment. You only have to get to the second line item in the “Other Procurement, Army” budget request for support equipment and spare parts to find this request for $1.5 million. So we’re halfway to our goal already. But let’s not pick on the Army, just because its tables appear first in the Pentagon budget. Let’s spread the “pain” a little.
Electrical Power Systems. You have to delve as far as line item 92 in “Other Procurement, Navy” to find another $1.4 million, which adds up to $2.9 million of our $3 million goal to avoid sequestration. And given Washington’s penchant for rounding up, I think we can get Congress to agree that this is close enough.
Problem solved. Defer some non-lethal equipment and some generators for a year, and you have met the cuts required to avoid the specter of sequestration for the Pentagon. But that was almost too easy. So here are some things I know the Pentagon uses, but I can’t find the true costs for.
Ink. How much does the Pentagon spend on toner cartridges? Given how often the brass ask for relief from Congressional reporting requirements, maybe reducing those reports could add up to a $3 million saving. In fiscal year 2014 “Washington Headquarters Services” (the folks who actually run the physical plant of the Pentagon) reported spending $1.3 million on printing and reproduction. The estimate for fiscal year 2016 is a mere $32,000. So savings are occurring, and perhaps it would be impossible to get any more blood out of that turnip.
Coffee. Unfortunately, I couldn’t unearth the cost for this in the publicly available budget documents. But we know that while the rank and file soldier or sailor is buying coffee from Pentagon vendors, guests of Pentagon big-wigs are offered free coffee during meetings. We just can’t find any statistics on the cost.
Lights. Burning the midnight oil requires burning a lot of actual oil, coal or other energy source to produce electricity. While we’d like to save billions by permanently turning out the lights at unneeded facilities, let’s start by just shutting off the lights at all facilities for one minute. With thousands of locations spread about the globe, surely the savings will add up.
One thing I didn’t know the Pentagon was using, but that we could find the cost for:
Viagra. Yes, recent reporting suggests the Department of Defense spends about $41 million per year on Viagra. So we can start there. And that would take care of this $3 million bill with plenty left over to spare.
Start cutting, Pentagon.