How much defense is enough?
(AR) WASHINGTON -- Last week's Senate action on the president's Fiscal
Year 1996 Defense budget was only the latest act in a continuous drama
that has ranged in Washington this summer, and in fact rages across
Capitol Hill every summer, when Defense dollars are proposed.
At the core of the argument is the age-old question: how much defense is enough? But many in Washington are also asking the equally vexing-and sometimes embarassing-question: how much defense does the Defense budget really buy?
Analyst Martin Calhoun at the Center for Defense Information (CDI), a respected but contentious foe of Pentagon programs often identified with liberal positions on military issues, spent the sweltering Summer months here poring over DoD budget figures from recent years. The precious defense dollars he tracked bought both strategic and conventional weapons, but also waste.
Both Clinton and Congress agreed to increase spending over the last Bush budget
review found $29 billion of taxpayer money which it
said was lost over the past decade due to Pentagon mismanagement. Some
$14.7 billion was spent over the last decade that could not be accounted
for by invoices.
Calhoun found that the Pentagon overpays some on its roster of civilian contractors $500 to $750-million each year. Unauthorized purchases of goods and services added up to $7 billion in the last eight years alone. Two Navy tankers whose construction was dropped were left abandoned in the James River, rusting and unwanted under current policy. The cost? $450 million.
Equally embarrassing to the Pentagon brass were authorized spending that seems to buy little enhanced security. The Center said that the Air Force spent $2 million to transport Air Force Academy cadets to and from sporting events last year.
Military and civilian VIPs often balk at the thought of driving between Andrews Air Force Base and the Pentagon about 40 miles away. The cost to fly them via helicopter? Between $400 and $1,600 each trip. The taxpayer even helped to compensate Lockheed and Martin Marietta following their merger last year. Calhoun said that the Pentagon contributed $31 million in executive bonuses following the merger.
With both the Clinton Administration and the Republican Congress agreed that DoD's budget needs to be increased over the amounts of the last Bush budget and Clinton's first two years, those increased dollars are likely to get more outside scrutiny than ever before.
Last week, the Senate added $6 billion to Clinton's request, with $600 million more for missile defense alone. According to the Center, that translates into military spending of $5 billion per week, $700 million per day, $500,000 a minute, $8,000 every second. Of all projected federal outlays, national defense accounts for more than 16 percent of the total budget and 48 percent of the discretionary spending proposed by the administration.
U.S. military spends nearly as much as all other nations combined
the recent downsizings, base closures, and cuts, the U.S.
military budget remains nearly as large as the military budgets of all
other nations in the world combined, The Center reported.
"A sweet, five year old baby already owes the federal government $18,000 and must pay over her lifetime $187,000 in taxes just to cover her share of the interest on our public debt. What does that tell you about the future of Americans to come?" asked former Vice-Admiral John J. Shanahan, the Center for Defense Information's Director.
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