The Institute for Policy Studies, one of the scores of think-tanks that thinks it knows better how the federal government should be run than Congress or The White House do, issued a new document entitled “Report of the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States.” Among the most visible of its observations about how the government could save tens of billions of dollars on national security is that the military budget is full of fat. This observation includes the cost of troops the U.S. has in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The annual Defense Department budget is just over $680 billion right now. The Administration has promised to cut that. Many outside observers believe this effort should concentrate on the dozens of programs for new weapons that are never used and the cost of general staff officers who fly around the world as they make inspection.
The really large costs of defense are obviously the supply and maintenance of troops that are abroad and the military’s traditional role as a worldwide police and enforcement body. Expense could be lowered if other nations would spend more on their military operations. Why should the U.S. defend Japan or Eastern Europe, or police Iraq for that matter?
The “too much fat” notion is always a convenient way to accuse the military of poor management and improper implementation of the plans set out by Congress and the President. The military is poorly run for the same reasons that Wal-Mart and GM are. Every organization with tens of billions of dollars in costs is inefficient by nature. No level of excellent management can solve that entirely. West Point is no better a training ground for efficiency control than Harvard Business School.
Reports from think-tanks that discuss the federal government nearly always hurt their analyses when they add to perfectly sensible recommendations an insistence that the Defense Department, or any other large government agency, would save a great deal of money if it could find and replace all of the $600 toilet seats and $1,000 wrenches. That is hardly the case. Big missions are what cost big money. The analysis of the military’s costs should be left at that. Four star admirals do not spend their time counting paper clips.
Douglas A. McIntyre