Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Veterans Beware

As a result of huge federal government debt and ongoing budget deficits, the Pentagon budget is coming under real scrutiny for the first time in years if not decades. Most Americans accept the Pentagon spending out of guilt, ignorance, fear, and limited liability patriotism. Defense contractors and assorted beltway bandits defend it out of greed. Politicians support it out of fear, greed and ambition. Veterans support it out of genuine patriotism, pride, and a loyalty to their service. I would suggest that veterans take a close, objective, look at their support of Pentagon spending.

In a nation that projects trillion dollar budgets over the next several years, how do you justify $7 million per year to sponsor a car on the NASCAR circuit? How do you justify more than $27 million per year to fund the DOD Senior Mentors program (AKA ”careerism on steroids”), which pays retired three and four stars $440 per hour up to $179,000 per year while receiving their full retirement benefits and being on the payroll of a defense contractor? How do you justify the fact that the U.S. defense budget is larger than the defense budgets of the next ten countries combined? How do you rationalize the fact that we are spending $6 billion per month in Afghanistan while we allocate $4.3 billion over four years to fund the Race to the Top, the U.S. government’s signature program to fix the nation’s broken public education system?

My difficulty in answering the questions above turns toward embarrassment as a veteran in light of the fact that the Defense Department is the only major federal government agency whose books are in such disarray that it cannot stand a financial audit. I am not talking about passing the audit; just undergoing one. DOD officials had committed to being able to undergo the audit by fiscal year 2000 but now say it will be 8-10 years before they will be able to do so. DOD officials cannot tell government auditors where more than $700 billion is spent each year. David M. Walker, former comptroller general of the United States has said, “I came to the conclusion that we have built the best fighting forces in the world at a very high cost and with a huge amount of waste. And the nation’s defense strategy is not as comprehensive, integrated, and future focused as it needs to be.”

There is much good that comes from a strong national defense. Informed, objective, patriotic, veterans must take the lead in imposing national thought, discipline and accountability into defense spending. Otherwise, greed, fear, ambition and limited liability patriotism will prevail in weakening national defenses.