Pentagon

Memo to GOP: Let's drill down on defense spending before we throw more money at Pentagon

March 11, 2015: Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks during a news conference with British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon following their meeting at the Pentagon.

March 11, 2015: Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks during a news conference with British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon following their meeting at the Pentagon.  ( AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

One of Aesop’s Fables is the classic cautionary tale about the boy who cried wolf, which warns that those who deceive will eventually no longer be believed, and will be consumed by their own lie. As the story goes, a shepherd, who was a trusted member of the community, repeatedly called the warning of “wolf” when there was none. In the end, the shepherd and his flock were eaten by wolves, as no one believed his warning when it was actually true. The message:  "this is how liars are rewarded: even if they tell the truth, no one believes them."

Rather than throwing billions more dollars at the DOD without any accountability or oversight, job number one of the Pentagon’s leadership is to figure out how to properly allocate the money it already has.

Last week, the chairs of the both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the Pentagon’s base budget should be restored to its pre-Budget Control Act (BCA) level of around $577 billion for FY 2016. This is not only $78 billion more than the law says it should be, but billions more ($15 billion, to be exact) than the president requested in his fairy-tale budget request. More unnecessary spending that is unfocused and unnecessary. Senator McCain claims that spending at the lawful level of the BCA is “putting American lives at risk.” Crying wolf.

Rather than throwing billions more dollars at the DOD without any accountability or oversight, job number one of the Pentagon’s leadership is to figure out how to properly allocate the money it already has.

Because there is no national security strategy – no basic benchmark to measure progress of strategic effort – there is no ‘point of reference’ from which to judge the Pentagon’s capacity to defend the U.S. or our interests. 

Notably, in the absence of this critical foundation these lawmakers cannot define how the current funding levels inadequately address the threats facing the United States today.  

The basic theory is “if we throw more money at the Pentagon it will make us safer.” They cannot explain how throwing more money at the Pentagon will make America safer. This is in essence the 21st Century version of crying wolf.

In fact, the greatest financial calamity facing the Pentagon these days is not lack of funding, but the waste of taxpayer dollars on fraud, abuse and military programs that either don’t work or aren’t needed. Any one of us is obligated to maintain our financial house and don’t have an “Uncle Sam” to go ask for more money anytime we get lazy and don’t want to manage our checking account.

By now, everyone knows about the infamous cost overruns of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- the poster child of Pentagon excess. 

The military has, and will, waste more money on this aircraft than France and the United Kingdom spend on defense in one year, combined.  

What’s more, the F-35 hasn’t come close to proving its value and isn’t necessary in today’s security environment. The Pentagon has (purposely) underestimated the lifetime costs of the F-35 by two thirds. The F-35 will absorb usable budget capacity for the next 30 years and will never perform to the level claimed by the Pentagon.  

Yet another example of the Pentagon’s waste and excess is the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Fortunately the DOD has wised up and reduced the number of ships it plans to purchase; however, the LCS costs nearly $500 million more per ship than originally proposed.   This is a “hole in the water” that will continue to suck down taxpayer dollars and provide no real defense capacity for the anticipated global missions of the U.S. Navy.

There is no shortage of documentation of the wasteful weapons programs draining Pentagon– and we now have bad shepherds working to add to wasteful spending.

And, on top of all this nonsense, according to a recent Government Accountability Office assessment more than half of the Pentagon’s top weapons programs increased in cost last year to the tune of $27 billion., That’s about what the entire Department of Energy spends in one year and about half of the Department of Homeland Security’s annual budget. Wow…do you feel safer?

The lack of global strategy and strategic thinking has left the Pentagon with no way to gauge whether it is spending its money in an effective manner. The Defense Department is the only federal agency that has not completed an audit. This is “simply unacceptable,” in the words of   Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) .

One critical step to pushing for an “effective” over “expensive” Pentagon must be an audit (or, due to its size, a series of audits). So rather than throwing billions more dollars at the DOD without any accountability or oversight, job number one of the Pentagon’s leadership is to figure out how to properly allocate the money it already has.

Fortunately, we have some “good” shepherds. It appears House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) isn’t interested in busting the defense spending caps set by the BCA, setting the stage for an intra-party dispute on this issue in the foreseeable future. Another Senator, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee said this week that DOD must “corral wasteful spending” before Congress considers appropriating beyond the caps.

So we must listen to the responsible shepherds here – and push all lawmakers to ignore those who “cry wolf” and instead follow the lead of Price and Sanders: let’s figure out how the Pentagon spends its money before we give it any more to throw away.  

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a CIA trained former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation "Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan - And The Path to Victory."  His latest book is The Last Line. He is a senior fellow with both the London Center for Policy Research and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. The opinions reflected here are those solely of Lt. Col. Shaffer -- and are not the opinion of the London Center for Policy Research (LCPR), the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) or of any other group or organization with which Lt. Col. Shaffer is affiliated.