Abolish the Pentagon

Date: 9 May 1999 | posted in: From the Desk of David Morris, The Public Good | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Abolish the Pentagon

by David Morris
Institute for Local Self-Reliance

March 9, 1999 – published in St. Paul Pioneer Press

Stamp out waste and incompetence in government. Strip the Pentagon of its rank.

For the fifth year in a row the General Accounting Office(GAO) has labelled the military’s financial and accountability system “high risk”. “None of the military services or the department as a whole have yet been able to produce auditable financial statements.”

Last year the Pentagon was unable to account for an estimated $22 billion in disbursements, nearly one tenth of its total budget. That is considerably more than the nation spends on its entire food stamp program. Some $90 billion of equipment lent to contractors is unaccounted for.

Cadillac-priced hardware systems that yield Yugo-like quality is the military’s specialty. Consider the $17 billion Milstar system, a satellite based communications system that links the president and senior military commanders. Time magazine says it is “to enable commanders to discuss whether a ballistic missile launch threatens North America and if so, to determine the appropriate retaliatory response.” The GAO tested the system recently and found that “the National Command Authorities and the chief military commander would be unable to communicate by voice in a timely and intelligible manner”. Hello, hello, did you say attack or fall back sir?

The Pentagon has spent $50 billion on a Star Wars missile defense system “that has yet to deploy or successfully test a single reliable device” notes William Hartung of the World Policy Institute. In 1991 Stewart & Stevenson of Houston won a $15.7 billion contract to build 85,000 trucks for the Army. The firm had never built a truck before. It quickly demonstrated that fact. Sixty percent of the first 8,000 trucks rusted out in three years.

A Pentagon contract is equivalent to a lifetime annuity with a non-cancellation clause. By early 1999, Stewart & Stevenson reportedly had cost overruns exceeding $100 million. Meanwhile, the firm had been convicted of criminal fraud against the Pentagon on another contract. Apparently satisfied with the work and the integrity of the company, the Pentagon recently renewed its truck contract.

Cost overruns on Lockheed Martin’s F22 fighter plane exceed $480 million. In February the GAO told us the company “showed a worsening trend of not accomplishing its planned work”. To the Pentagon, this means all systems are go.

So here we are, saddled with an agency only the Three Stooges or perhaps Saddam Hussein could admire, and what is the President and Congress’s reaction? The White House wants to give the military another $110 billion. The Pentagon seeks $150 billion. The Republican Congress will probably split the difference.

These levels of spending will smash through the sacred spending cap Congress imposed on itself a few years ago. But when the military asks, Congress salutes. After all, we’re not talking about the homeless here, or farmers, or sick people, or minimum wage workers. We’re talking about missile defense systems that don’t work, rusting trucks, unneeded fighter planes. Why, it’s a national emergency SIR.

That’s why the average taxpayer is going to be forced to fork over another $1,000 to a Pentagon that now spends two thirds of its budget on overhead and only a third on its combat troops, the reverse of l5 years ago.

Our defense budget is nearly 18 times as large as the combined spending of the seven countries the Pentagon has identified as our most likely adversaries. Moreover, the military budgets of most other nations are going down, not up. “Since the cold war, the rest of the world has disarmed while we have not”, Lawrence Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan told Congress.

Many experts think we should shrink, not expand, military spending. Rather than add more than $100 billion, Korb thinks we can reduce spending by at least $100 billion. Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute agrees. The Center for Defense Information supports an immediate cut of $50 billion.

If only the poor and the sick had uniforms. “A welfare mother has to account for every dime but the sky’s the limit with the Pentagon”, observes Rep. Jim McGovern(D-MA). Providing adequate shelter for the 700,000 people the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates are homeless on any given night would cost about $10 billion. Meanwhile the U.S. spends $25 billion to maintain and enhance our ability to wage a nuclear war, long after the era of mutual assured destruction has passed.

The Navy wants to build a $100 billion new fighter plane which, according to the GAO, has only marginal improvements over the current version. Imagine if we said no to the Navy and yes to the homeless, yes to repairing dilapidated schools, yes to the disabled. Imagine if we defined national security as protecting our insecure citizens rather than stuffing the pockets of four star generals and military contractors.

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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.