FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Scale of Pentagon Waste Boggles the Mind, But Congress Keeps Giving Them More

by

Photo by The U.S. Army | CC by 2.0

Everyone hates government waste. President Trump believes it is “our moral duty to the taxpayer” to “make our government leaner and more accountable,” and his political opponents seem to agree.

And yet, when called to vote on an extra $80 billion a year for the most profligate public agency in the country, the overwhelming majority of U.S. senators asked no questions. The Pentagon not only escaped serious budget cuts while everything from national parks to Meals on Wheels has been squeezed, but it actually almost got more than it asked for in the spending bill the Senate approved on September 18.

The Pentagon’s latest increase alone — never mind its base budget, which runs hundreds of billions higher — is a sum large enough to make public colleges free across the country, and by itself is worth well over 80 percent of Russia’s entire military budget.

It’s worth asking: Where does the money go?

“We’re the largest bureaucracy in the world”

Consider the reaction if the Environmental Protection Agency buried evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste. At the very least, we would see congressional inquiries with Republicans foaming at the mouth and Democrats solemnly stating their commitment to safeguarding your tax dollars. At most, we would hear calls for some kind of criminal investigation.

This whole situation is mathematically impossible for the EPA, with its annual budget of around $8 billion, but not for the Department of Defense. In 2015, it both found and hid $125 billion of wasteful spending.

As a Washington Post investigation revealed, the Pentagon did not like the findings of its internal spending review. Its own investigators found that a quarter of the annual budget was spent on overheads like human resources and logistics. It counted over a million desk jobs, and nearly 200,000 full-time contractors in the Army alone. That exceeds “the combined civil workforce for the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development,” the Post notes — all with the fewest number of active troops on duty since 1940.

The deputy defense secretary, who ordered the review, admitted: “We’re the largest bureaucracy in the world. There’s going to be some inherent inefficiencies in that.”

“We’ll never recover a dollar”

If “inefficiency” is a suitable word for the Pentagon bureaucracy at home, it doesn’t come close to describing how military money is spent abroad.

In the six years from 2009 to 2015, the Special Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan tallied around $17 billion in “questionable spending” throughout the country by the Pentagon, the State Department, and USAID, while the comparable office for Iraq suggested that $8-$10 billion (of $60 billion total) in reconstruction money was wasted as a result of corruption and mismanagement.

Although these numbers clearly matter, specific cases convey the depth of the absurdity. A few examples:

+ In June, the IG for Afghanistan reported that the Pentagon “may have spent up to $28 million more than needed to procure camouflage uniforms that may be inappropriate for the Afghan environment.” The Afghan defense minister wanted expensive forest-camouflage uniforms — even though forests only cover 2.1 percent of the country — “in the name of fashion, because the defense minister thought that that pattern was pretty,” the inspector general, John Sopko, said. “My concern is what if the minister of defense liked purple, or liked pink? Are we going to buy pink uniforms for soldiers and not ask questions?”

+ A recent audit concluded that officials at the Pentagon cannot account for $700 million spent on ammunition for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces through 2015 and 2016.

+ The Pentagon spent just under half a million dollars on 20 refurbished cargo planes for the Afghan Air Force in 2008, only to find that they were so poorly equipped that they were not fit for use. “Sixteen of the planes were sold as scrap for the grand sum of $32,000,” Pro Publica notes.

+ In 2007, the Government Accountability Office told Congressthat the Pentagon “cannot fully account for” 190,000 weapons “reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22 2005.” A 2016 audit suggested that the total price of lost American weapons in Iraq amounted to around $1 billion.

This is a small sample. When asked about the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Afghanistan, which was effectively dismantled in 2011, Inspector General Sopko told Defense News that “the money has basically been wasted.” “In all likelihood,” he continued, “we’ll never recover a dollar.”

The outsourcing illusion

For some officials and commentators, the solution is outsourcing. The Center for a New American Security’s Daniel Straub even argues in a recent article that “private contractors can help win the war in Afghanistan,” because “profit is incentive to do a job right.” Contractors, he suggests, can bring flexibility and efficiency, perhaps saving the taxpayer as much as $35 billion.

The evidence from the Pentagon’s great outsourcing experiments suggests the complete opposite: Profit is an incentive to overcharge, mislead, and defraud.

The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting provided the most comprehensive assessment of this in 2011. It concluded that “at least $31 billion, and possibly as much as $60 billion, has been lost to contract waste and fraud in America’s contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Justice Department sued the contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) for overcharging in 2012; Custer Battles was found guilty of $3 million worth of fraud in Iraq as early as 2006; and although DynCorp was accused in federal court of knowingly inflating costs throughout a four-year contract for the State Department in Iraq, it maintains its Pentagon contract for “training and mentoring” the Afghan National Police and Interior Ministry.

Forever immune?

Much of the Pentagon’s new handout will go where it usually goes: into the pockets of military contractors, or else get lost altogether.

Most Americans won’t discover this, and it’s hard to blame them. Their political leaders are united in their determination to protect the world’s largest bureaucracy from serious scrutiny.

However, as Afghanistan war veterans watch their children go off to fight the same war they began fighting 16 years ago, the Pentagon won’t be immune forever. Then, it will have a heavy account to settle.

Harry Blain is a PhD student at the City University of New York majoring in International Relations. 

This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail