The Good and (Mostly) Bad News About Pentagon Spending and Accountability

I. It Is Time to Audit the Pentagon

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) sent a “Dear Colleague” email on January 23, 2013, which calls for an audit of the Pentagon. Lee describes the Pentagon as the only federal agency that can’t be audited or realistically predicted when it will be able to do so. She says the Pentagon admits the problem and agrees it has a duty to pass an audit. The Pentagon’s Office of the Comptroller wrote in 2008: “Our financial problems are pervasive and well documented.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated in a January 17, 2013 press release that serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) have made the financial statements unauditable; although the GAO acknowledged that the DOD had established a directorate to prepare auditable department-wide financial statements by September 30, 2017.

II. FY 2013 Pentagon Spending Request

The FY 2013 Pentagon budget, adjusted for inflation, reduces spending by 2.6 percent below  FY 2012 levels, becoming the first real decrease in the annual base budget decrease in over a decade. Spending should be further reduced by $259 billion over five years and $489 billion over ten years.

Force structure reductions over five years will account for $50 billion of the five-year $259 billion reduction. Total active forces reductions will be 102,400: the Army reduced from 562,000 to 490,000; the Navy reduced from 325,700 to 319,500; the Air Force reduced from 332,800 to 328,600; and the Marine Corps reduced from 202,100 to 182,100.

Any decrease in Pentagon spending in the hundreds of billions over 10 years is welcome, but it is a very modest cut when considering the current bloated nature of the Pentagon and the projected spending of nearly $6.5 trillion over ten years.

President Barack Obama’s vision of long-term Pentagon spending has varied widely since his inauguration in office. Beyond any reductions that might result from ending the war in Iraq, Obama didn’t have a long-term plan for reducing Pentagon spending. When, however, he released his overall 12-year spending blueprint, he included $400 billion in Pentagon spending reductions. During the debt ceiling talks, Obama proposed some cuts in Pentagon spending, including force structure reductions and delays in deploying new airplanes, ships and submarines. Later, the debt ceiling talks led to the sequestration agreement, whereby a ten-year cut of $1.2 trillion would be shared equally by domestic and Pentagon spending cuts.

As recently as November 2011, President Obama was a strong defender of the sequestration agreement, vowing to veto any bill that reduced the $1.2 trillion in cuts. Obama has completely reversed his position and become a fierce opponent of the sequestration. As revealed in the FY 2013 budget, he is now on record as supporting $489 billion in Pentagon spending cuts over ten years, not the $600 billion called for in the sequestration agreement.

The $489 billion cut is itself misleading, because Obama has added many billions of dollars to buttress our nuclear weapons arsenal and a large chunk of nuclear weapons spending is in the Department of Energy budget.

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