Letter to commission on defense spending

This letter via Counterpunch to the Deficit Commission makes a clear statement on broad issues of accountability for the DoD, our contracting system, and the huge drain on our resources. Reading the whole letter points to examples of problems, and how the current system has reached and will reach unsustainable levels of spending.

We are writing to you and other members of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform as individuals who have worked in national security affairs for decades for the Department of Defense, in the Armed Forces and for Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Our concern is the defense budget.

Similar to what your “Co-Chairs’ Proposal” said last week regarding Social Security and other issues, we do not believe that defense spending should be reduced to a bargaining chip in budget negotiations at the Deficit Commission. On the other hand, we do believe that the defense budget is dangerously bloated, giving rise to serious decay in our armed forces.

Despite Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ efforts to cancel or redo several weapon programs that were over cost and under-performing, the number of major defense acquisition programs has changed from 91 programs costing $1.6 trillion to 87 programs costing $1.6 trillion. As you know, Secretary Gates has also imposed a plan on the DOD bureaucracy to transfer internally $102 billion dollars over 5 years, but there is no net savings to help the deficit.

Instead, Secretary Gates wants the DOD budget to grow one percent per year plus inflation for the next 10 years. That would increase the base DOD budget from $554 in 2010 to $735 billion in 2020 – a 33 percent increase, not including any spending for the wars against terrorism. While the Co-Chairs’ Proposal seeks a number of terminations, reductions, and efficiencies beyond the Gates’ plan (many of them welcome and overdue, but some that we believe require major modification), both the Co-Chairs Proposal and the Gates’ plan project into the future a defense program that is essentially the same as that we have today, simply at different spending levels. Under either plan, the size and modernity of our forces will continue to shrink and age, even if all remaining programs are implemented without any cost increases or schedule delays.

Without a jolt, without radically altered incentives, the bureaucratic system that thrives on corrupted, unaudited accounts cannot and will not change. A colleague of yours on the Deficit Commission, Senator Tom Coburn, R-OK, has written to you recommending the urgently required accounting changes, together with a new and strong incentive: the DOD budget should be frozen at current (2010) spending levels until it can pass comprehensive audits of all of its programs, agencies, and contractors.

All this is inextricably interwoven with our present wars. If – after our withdrawal from Iraq, Afghanistan and similar adventures, an increasingly inevitable consequence of impending bankruptcy – we simply default to the Pentagon’s military and civilian bureaucracies, allowing them to continue business as usual by just shrinking presently planned forces, it would be an enormous tragedy for the American people and for all those in uniform. Your support of constructive, thoughtful use of reduced budget levels and audited spending figures can make possible truly fundamental reform, reform that reorients our national military strategy to more prudently balance national ends against national means.