By Rick Ungar
Dr. Ashton Carter, President Obama’s nominee to take the reigns of the Department of Defense after serving as the number two man in Defense until December of 2013, is unlikely to experience anything resembling a rough ride on his way to Senate confirmation.
Indeed, during last week’s hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, both Democratic and Republican members appeared to be bending over backwards to offer support to the man who will likely succeed outgoing Secretary Chuck Hagel as the new boss of the nation’s massive defense budget.
It’s certainly no wonder that the hawks in the U.S. Senate would take Carter into their hearts.
During his testimony, Carter stated that sequestering the defense budget is, in his view, a grave mistake and that, rather than cutting via sequester, we should be increasing defense spending—subject, of course, to the importance of curbing the wasteful spending for which the Pentagon has become famous.
“The taxpayer cannot comprehend, let alone support, the defense budget when they read of cost overruns, lack of accounting and accountability, needless overhead and the like. This must stop.”
Republicans on the panel were so quick to jump on board the notion of an Obama appointee railing against the sequester while making the case for cutting all the wasted spending, they somehow forgot to take notice of one rather salient fact—
Ashton Carter is one of the all-time champions when it comes to shockingly wasteful military spending and is responsible for the ugliest cost overrun (despite his statement) in US military history.
Remarkably, nobody on the Armed Services Committee managed to recall that Dr. Carter, as under-secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, had direct oversight of the development and expenditures involved in the F-35 fighter jet—the most expensive ($1.5 trillion and counting) weapons system in the nation’s history and one of the Pentagon’s greatest failures.
So bad has the project gone that it has recently been described by the military as a “buggy mess,” an assessment that comes after years of the F-35 program being termed an “unmitigated disaster.”
Dr. Carter is also the man who oversaw the spending and production of the MRAP armored vehicles—at a cost of $50 billion—a program that has seen over 2400 of the vehicles scrapped at a loss of $2 billion to the American taxpayer. This may be ‘small change’ compared to what we stand to lose on the F-35 but $2 billion is still nothing to laugh off.
According to the New York Times, while Dr. Carter may have had the right idea when developing the MRAP, he over-committed to production, contracting for the manufacture of over 27,000 of the vehicles.
Of that number, 4,000 were destroyed by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan and roughly 6000 are still sitting in Afghanistan today.
That leaves 17,000 MRAPs with no useful purpose, assuming there is still a purpose for all 6,000 on Afghan soil. Of the 17,000, the Pentagon has decided to keep 10,000 in case they might come in handy in the future.
As for the rest of them, they are being sent to local police departments, sold to other nations or turned into scrap to avoid falling into the hands of adversaries.
Hardly the model for cutting waste in the Pentagon.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was quick to join Carter’s call for better control of the military budget, noting that, “Many of our military’s challenges today as the result of years of mistakes and wasted resources.”
And yet, it never occurred to McCain to raise the question of Carter’s role in wasting so much money on the F-35 program or any of Carter’s oversight of billions in other military expenditures that were, to be kind, unnecessary or wasteful.
I suppose one should not be surprised that any such questions designed to determine whether the best person is being appointed to one of our most important positions would have been overlooked.
When the majority of the Armed Services Committee is far more interested in using the platform to repeat their criticism of six years of Obama foreign policy, who can be bothered with assessing the quality of the candidate the Armed Services Committee will, no doubt, recommend for confirmation?
John McCain, Lindsey Graham and friends may be happy to gloss over Dr. Carter’s poor management of some critically expensive military projects but the American people should not be quite so forgiving or quick to support Carter’s rise to the top.
While I am not yet suggesting that Carter be denied confirmation, I do not think it is asking too much of the Senate committee to ask the nominee relevant questions regarding how he will make good on his promise to cut military waste in light of his previous record of being directly responsible for billions —potentially trillions—of the same.
That is, after all, their job.