There’s this scene in the old “Independence Day” movie, when our heroes show up at the Area 51 base where the military has been doing expensive, secret alien research.
Stunned, President Bill Paxton asks, “How do you get funding for something like this?” The wise Judd Hirsch character responds, “You don’t actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?”
It was the kind of charming reassurance we could only enjoy during the 1990s: Americans, the military only spends too much because they’re protecting you from aliens!
Alas, after the excesses of the last 20 years, no one of any political stripe wants that kind of false comfort, with the Pentagon failing its fifth audit in a row last year. The Pentagon’s shoulder-shrugging approach to financial management is so bad that the $7 billion in military hardware gifted to the Taliban — President Joe Biden’s signature foreign policy achievement — seems like proverbial chump change.
With inflation reaching historic highs — Biden’s signature domestic achievement — the government must take a hard look at how it spends our money.
Conservatives are more likely to point to the $1.7 trillion spent every year on unsustainable social programs — the largest single item on the U.S. budget — but we must also cut wasteful defense spending.
During a time when Russian and Chinese aggression is the highest in recent memory, of course we must keep our swords sharp. We don’t know the exact percent that must be cut, but if we want to be able to deal with them long term, we know the amount isn’t zero.
Americans must address unsuccessful, expensive defense programs, particularly when proven, cost-effective alternatives already exist.
We’ve done so before and we can again.
Congress has actually done a good job of stepping in to stop wasteful spending when the news has come to light, intervening to address problems like overpaid defense executives, abuse of taxpayer funded expense accounts, and $10,000 toilet seats on C-17 cargo planes.
So Judd Hirsch was a little off — just $10,000 per toilet seat, not $30,000. Practically a bargain when you think about it, but this all could explain why five of the seven wealthiest counties in America are around the Pentagon.
See, but there are bigger problems than fraudulent spending. There are also big programs that, while not strictly speaking fraud, are still ineffective. Most recently, the Navy began decommissioning the failed Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in 2020 due to a host of failures.
If you’ve ever stopped at the Pentagon or Pentagon City metro stop on the yellow line, you’ve seen those big ads about America’s littoral dominance. Yes, some of those expensive ads were for this program.
While designed for intercepting drug-trafficking boats, destroying enemy ships, and similar missions, the combat ships’ capabilities have proven no match for similar enemy ships. With an annual cost of $2 billion, Congress could no longer justify the cost of a vessel that required so much additional investment to be seaworthy.
Indeed, the antiquated, inadequate, and faulty LCS has been so bad that it’s been dubbed the “Little Crappy Ship.”
But of all the DoD’s long history of questionable spending decisions, now it must face another one with much more significant consequences should military leaders get it wrong: the F-35 fighter jet — the most expensive weapon program in DoD history.
With an original budget of $178 billion, the F-35 has seen so many problems its costs have ballooned by $680 million. Yet despite countless overruns, the U.S. government has obediently doled out additional funds for Lockheed Martin to fix the program.
Adding insult to injury, the Pentagon requested 61 fighter jets in the president’s 2022 budget even though Air Force officials said use of the F-35 must be slashed given its exorbitant operational costs.
Now is not the time to waste even more money on fighter jets or ships not up to par, especially when cost-effective alternatives with proven success already exist. During a time of chronic economic upheaval, we must prioritize defense programs that do the most good for the least money.
Fiscal stability is an integral part of national security. If the DoD can’t manage the former, it certainly can’t do the latter. We don’t need the Pentagon to defend us from aliens, we need it to balance its budget.
Jared Whitley is a longtime politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley’s reports — More Here.
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