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Commentary

Security Spending Hikes: Real Improvements or Bureaucratic Largesse?


     
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The centerpieces of President George W. Bush’s 2003 budget are the $48 billion increase in the defense budget (the largest increase in more than two decades) and the doubling of funding homeland security to $38 billion.

Mitch Daniels Jr., the president’s budget director, justified the hefty funding hike by saying it is needed “to win the war against terrorism and protect our homeland.” To justify holding non-defense discretionary spending to a 2 percent increase to help pay for the boost in defense spending, Mr. Daniels noted correctly that Washington is “overrun by vested interests whose livelihoods depend on extracting ever-increasing quantities of taxpayer dollars for their narrow causes.” What Mr. Daniels forgot to mention was that vested interests also exist in the defense sector--defense industries and communities with unneeded military bases--that are out to do much the same.

Most of the defense budget increase has little to do with winning the war on terrorism. In fact, by the Bush administration’s own figures, only $19 billion of the increase would be spent on the war. The rest is expenditures for business-as-usual.

Of course, more money is needed for precision munitions, unmanned vehicles and special forces to fight the small and possibly medium-sized wars needed to combat terrorism. But those needs are fairly cheap. For example, the Bush administration increased funding for precision munitions by only $1 billion, unmanned vehicles by only $1 billion, and funding for the special forces by only $600 million. In a nearly $400 billion annual proposed budget for national defense, those added needs are inexpensive. An R&D program for a new bomber might also be in order. In reality, with savings generated by cutting unneeded weapons and military bases, those programs could be easily funded from the already excessive current defense budget (roughly $350 billion per year).

Scrapping unneeded weapons or anachronistic armaments designed for the Cold War would save billions of dollars. For example, after the fall of the Soviet Union, no new large-scale threat exists to American dominance of the skies to justify the exorbitantly priced F-22 fighter, which was designed to combat Soviet fighters that were never built. American air supremacy will exist for the foreseeable future whether the F-22 is built or not. In addition, the Crusader, a program to develop a heavy self-propelled artillery piece for what is supposed to be a new, lighter Army, seems absurd. A constant theme of George W. Bush during his campaign and after taking office has been that the military needs to be transformed into a lighter, more agile force that could be deployed to trouble spots more quickly. During the campaign, Mr. Bush criticized the Crusader for being too heavy for rapid deployment. Yet the president’s FY2003 budget includes money for this armored white elephant.

Another way to save significant defense dollars is to close unneeded military bases. According to the Department of Defense and most independent military analysts, the smaller post-Cold War force could get by with 20 to 25 percent fewer bases. Congress, pressured by vested interests in local communities with bases, delayed more closings until 2005. That decision should be reconsidered.

But the amount of money wasted is likely to be much greater than the sums spent on unneeded weapons and bases. The problem is that no one knows the magnitude of the waste. For starters, the Pentagon’s own auditors admit the military cannot account for 25 percent of what it spends. The Pentagon cannot account for a staggering cumulative total of $2.3 trillion in transactions. On top of this, even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has compared the way the Pentagon does business to Soviet central planning. The administration’s own management scorecard of various government agencies rated the Pentagon as unsatisfactory in all five of its categories of efficiency. So even weapons that might be needed in the new security environment often experience uneven quality, exorbitant cost overruns and substantial delays in fielding. For example, the troubled V-22 tiltrotor aircraft, designed to ferry Marines to shore from ships, is being produced in limited quantities until the military figures out how to fix it. The plane has been plagued by crashes, is 10 years behind schedule and is $15 billion over initial cost estimates.

Giving a slothful and inefficient defense bureaucracy infusions of cash is rewarding failure and therefore asking for more of the same. In that environment, few incentives exist for the vitally needed transformation of American defenses in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Thus, spending more money on the Pentagon can actually reduce U.S. security rather than enhance it.

In contrast, much of the increase in the homeland security budget is probably justified. That area has been neglected over the years as the United States has spent exorbitant sums on Pentagon programs designed mainly to protect other nations, but little on defending America itself. Most of the added spending goes for needed improvements in border security, defense against bioterrorism, aviation security, training police and firefighters, and improved intelligence. Even here, however, we must watch to make sure unneeded government programs are not masquerading as efforts in homeland defense. In both defense and homeland security, we need real security, not bureaucratic largesse.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.


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