Editorial: Billions in military waste a travesty

The York Dispatch
FILE - In this June 30, 2016 file photo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. Top military leaders are trying to fix the lengthy, inconsistent process for investigating senior officers accused of misconduct, The Associated Press has learned. They are seeking to change a hodgepodge system in which investigations can drag on for years while taxpayers pay six-figure salaries for senior officers relegated to mid-level administrative posts.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
  • The Pentagon commissioned a report that uncovered $125 billion in wasteful military spending.
  • It then promptly destroyed the report for fear its mammoth budget would be cut if made public.
  • The U.S. has nearly as many working desk jobs far from front lines as it has active-duty troops.

The Washington Post this past week revealed the Defense Department buried a report it had requested on wasteful spending when its findings uncovered “a clear path” to savings of $125 billion.

Pentagon leaders commissioned the report to find efficiency among its bureaucracy in order to spend money on combat personnel, weapons and the like. But Pentagon officials, fearful Congress would cut its budget if the waste was made public, destroyed the data by encryption to ensure it could not easily be replicated.

The Washington Post reports: “Some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertion that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.”

The armed forces might indeed be starved of funds, but it's not because of austerity. It's because of the Pentagon's ineptitude.

According to the report, the Pentagon has almost as many people working desk jobs in its business operations as it has active-duty troops. The Defense Department has more than 1 million contractors, uniformed personnel and civilians “to fill back-office jobs far from the front lines. That workforce supports 1.3 million troops on active duty, the fewest since 1940.”

Critics have long targeted wasteful military spending. The $580 billion 2016 budget is half of the federal discretionary budget.

On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump told a Louisiana crowd during a stop on his victory tour that the military will be the most powerful in history under his administration. The Pentagon has clearly gone unchecked, and if Trump, a self-proclaimed talented businessman, wants to overhaul the military, he and his administration would do well to start by attacking the waste.

You would be loath to find an American who would object to their tax dollars going to secure the country via a strong, vital military. We believe it is important to support military personnel around the world and those veterans who have put their lives on the line to secure our well-being.

We do need an upgraded military after decades of fighting has taken its toll and the threat of Islamic State and others.

But bigger is not necessarily better. The New York Times writes: “Giving the Pentagon a blank check does not ensure security. It got most of what it wanted in the decade after 9/11, yet America still struggles to keep Afghanistan and Iraq from falling to insurgents.”

Congress must investigate these findings and ensure the Pentagon eliminates waste before another defense budget passes. Congress must also not be tempted to look the other way because defense contracts benefit contractors in their districts.

Dentsply awarded contract worth up to $35 million

Money wasted could be spent boosting our military capabilities in ways that best support our troops and our mission to preserve democracy at home and around the world.  It also could  be spent on diplomacy aimed at preventing future wars — and at domestic programs that could provide a much-needed safety net for our communities in need here at home.

As the vital components — people and weapons — of the American military machine continue to show wear, wasting money on unchecked bureaucracy will ultimately leave us all more vulnerable at a time when, globally and locally, there is more uncertainty than ever.