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There Is Plenty To Cut At the Pentagon 484

Hugh Pickens writes "William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, writes that although we have been bombarded with tales of woe about the potentially devastating impacts of cutting the Pentagon budget 8% under the sequester, examples of egregious waste and misplaced spending priorities at the Pentagon abound. One need look no further than the department's largest weapons program, the F-35 combat aircraft, which has just been grounded again after a routine inspection revealed a crack on a turbine blade in the jet engine of an F-35 test aircraft in California. Even before it has moved into full-scale production, the plane has already increased in price by 75%, and it has so far failed to meet basic performance standards. By the Pentagon's own admission, building and operating three versions of the F-35 — one for the Air Force, one for the Navy and one for the Marines — will cost more than $1.4 trillion over its lifetime, making it the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken. And in an era in which aerial combat is of diminishing importance and upgraded versions of current generation U.S. aircraft can more than do the job, it is not at all clear that we need to purchase more than 2,400 of these planes. Cutting the two most expensive versions of the F-35 will save over $60 billion in the next decade."
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There Is Plenty To Cut At the Pentagon

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  • by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @09:40AM (#42988757)

    Although the F-35 is the poster child for poor procurement processes, the simple fact of the matter is that entitlement spending dwarfs defense spending.

    Finding waste in government spending is easy. It's present everywhere, all the time. For every egregious example of waste in military spending you are guaranteed to find a proportional amount in any other program.

    The only effective way to control it is through competition in a free market. The more a given market comes under government control, the less competition and freedom exists and the more wasteful it becomes. It's human nature.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @09:44AM (#42988765)

    The Pentagon puts all of its eggs in one basket. It better be a spectacular basket. One of the best reasons for operating systems diversity is that you can likely only kill off one branch with an attack. Imagine being able to find a way into a US$1.4trillion fleet, and whack all of them.

    I'm not off-put by one turbine fan in one aircraft having problems; this has happened before in this fleet. Could have happened for many reasons. But I the US Military and its defense contractor network are vastly too cozy for my tastes. Add that to congresspeople trying to continue programs so that their districts have US military spending, and the whole process seems mightily corrupt.

  • by Troyusrex ( 2446430 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @09:44AM (#42988767)
    And the F-35 replaces the F-18, F-15, F-16, A-8, A-10 and the Harriers. The 3 versions they will have is a huge SAVINGS because it replaces so many other planes. Of course, the author also doesn't adjust for inflation which is a huge factor. I'm not saying that there isn't a lot to cut from the Pentagon, or even from the F-35 program, I'm just saying that the rational given here makes no sense at all.
  • Plenty to cut (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @09:52AM (#42988793) Homepage Journal
    And always at the neck. Putting the blame in the dot that is at the very tip of the iceberg makes simple people forget the 10% of it that is over the water, and normal people forget the 90% is below. If just gets considered the cost of starting wars (cyber and real world ones, even if they are disguised as humanitarian, or supporting rebels, or whatever), preserving the (corporate) order, or plainly stripping privacy/spying to all the world, including US citizens, would be evident where the real waste is.
  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:02AM (#42988821) Homepage Journal

    The major entitlement spending is for Medicare and Social Security. People are entitled to Medicare and Social Security because they paid for them all their lives.

    Do you propose that the government not pay people the benefits they paid for as part of a contract?

    That would be like buying health insurance from a private company, and having them decide not to pay you when you get sick and need it, because that would be a good way for them to save money.

  • by TheSunborn ( 68004 ) < .ta. .rellit.> on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:04AM (#42988829)

    I think that using "tens of thousands of our nation's best and brightest engineers" to build something more useful instead would be a good choice.

  • by arse maker ( 1058608 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:08AM (#42988851)

    The F-18 per unit cost is $29-57 million in 2006 dollars (

    Which is a small fraction of the F-35 cost. So I dont see how they can be saving money.

    I dont really follow your logic. Replacing a plane is a total loss on the old plane. So you can't possibly save money.

  • by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:12AM (#42988869)
    Yep, cost (materials and labor)+10%(the profit) is totally sucking our country dry... Nothing to do with the Pentagon driving costs through the roof by forcing bidding on one set of requirements, then changing them hundreds of times before the program is finished.

    No, it is killer 10% markup that is the problem.
  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:15AM (#42988885)

    the simple fact of the matter is that entitlement spending dwarfs defense spending.

    The problem is that defense spending has BECOME entitlement spending. It is welfare for the defense contractors, who have no incentive to remain within budget or timelines. We can cut defense spending without having to cut a single program in production or development: all we have to do is make sure that companies are held to the promises they make when the bid for a contract. And, if they intentionally underbid or underestimated the program well, then they need to eat the cost of that overrun, just like a company would in any other industry. This isn't cutting spending, it is simply cutting costs. We still get everything we need, we just don't pay out the ass for it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:19AM (#42988907)

    The challenge you face with the insurance company analogy is the insurance company can go bankrupt. The Federal government just prints more money. We have to face reality, a vast majority of people get considerably more out of Social Security and Medicare then they put in.

    This is simply not sustainable. This includes my parents too.

    At this moment the we are borrowing .46 cents of every dollar we are spending. That is simply not sustainable. Hard choices are in our future and I think we should face reality now while we still have some control over our destiny.

    I do not want to wake up one morning and discover the world has decided that a US dollar is just a piece of paper with dead white guys face on it and nothing more.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:19AM (#42988909)
    We're not broke people. Really []. We're not. This is what people in politics call a "Narrative". It's a story to get you to vote a certain way. Specifically to vote for massive tax cuts for the rich so they can pocket all the gains in productivity from the last 50 years.

    Cut all the "Waste" you want. It'll never come close or be a drop in the bucket against what the ultra wealthy are taking from you on a daily basis. I tell ya man, dog eat dog capitalism for the poor, socialism for the wealthy...
  • by fafaforza ( 248976 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:22AM (#42988923)

    "Entitlement" is almost a four letter word, but you know what? I'd rather have US citizens be able to feed themselves, than our money going to toys that never get used. We will have training exercises and missions costing millions per minute, in flight refelling for God knows what reason when the US has bases and aircraft carriers everywhere. And all this in an age when 19 guys with box cutters struck a direct blow to us and we're relying more on RC planes to dish out our justice. Who are we going to fight with these planes?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:24AM (#42988933)

    And this is exactly what insurance companies do when a real catastrophe happens. Like Katrina.

    Insurances and healthcare should be public and paid by taxes because from a profit perspective they have much more profit when they don't do their job and this alone is an incentive for private companies to not do what they are paid for.

  • by sulimma ( 796805 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:25AM (#42988939)

    It also employs tens of thousands of our nation's best and brightest engineers..

    Who are unavailable for other tasks due to this programm.

    and almost all of it goes to labor (and a big chunk returns in taxes, if not all in economic activity)

    As would almost any other type of spending. The difference is, you get planes instead of schools, highways, vaccines or what else could be done with the money.

    Also, the money for this programm is coming from taxes so not spending the money at all creates purchasing power all accross the population which might be the best thing for welfare and economy.

  • by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:41AM (#42989011)
    I agree that Medicare should remain, but I disagree with the role of Social Security. SS is designed as a safety net, but in popular use, has been pushed into the role of a retirement income supplement.

    I would prefer it stay as a safety net (kick in when little money or value is left because you lived longer than you expected to, say, 10 years after retirement). Some system to reduce its cost. Though, even SS isn't so bad, since, in theory, it is already paid for.

    If we had bumped taxes and cut spending when the economy was good (pre2008, in which Bush did the opposite to boost his popularity) and then cut taxes and boosted spending when the collapse happened, we wouldn't be having these discussions.
  • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:41AM (#42989013)
    The company with the deepest pockets to litigate its opponents into bankruptcy and bribe legislatures into passing laws only in its favor is the company that gets its products to market. Or, at least, that's the way it's been going for the last what, 50 years or so?
  • Re:Plenty to cut (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <> on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:42AM (#42989015) Homepage Journal

    Even lower down it isn't clear that government agencies are particularly wasteful because there is nothing to compare them to. No private companies do anything like what the government does, and that is kind of the point of the government doing it. It's something not commercially viable, or that we can't trust to the free market to sort out.

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @10:48AM (#42989039) Homepage Journal

    So after the government has taken all this money, you would change the law to say that the government won't give it back to me?

  • by Dr. Tom ( 23206 ) <> on Saturday February 23, 2013 @11:12AM (#42989151) Homepage

    There is a case for keeping the F-35B. It is to replace the aging and very outdated Harrier.

    not a compelling argument. tech has moved on, yes. so has the enemy. fight smarter, not more expensively

  • Real world numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @11:22AM (#42989211)
    So over it's service life it would cost roughly the same amount as putting solar panels on 40 million homes. One unneeded airplane that has yet to see a day of service. There's plenty of money to solve our problems it's all being wasted!
  • by hjf ( 703092 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @11:43AM (#42989303) Homepage

    Defense spending is public spending in disguise.

    The US has been eating their own dog food (anti-communism) for the last 50 years. They have been SO brainwashed against communism that even thinking of building a power plant or public road is now seen as the big red menace.

    Spending in defense, on the other hand, is not only patriotic, it's also money that goes to private companies which is a very capitalistic way of spending your money. So technically they are being keynesian without being too communist.

    The problem is, people are used to that reasoning. And they think the government shouldn't "spend" money. Everything private is better and more efficient. The government is slow and wasteful.

    Yet, a private company doesn't have neither the interest or funds to take on a huge work like the US highway system. The US is what it is now because of the highways. A private company wouldn't have built a road to nowhere, but government does. Even if it seems like a bad idea, 20 years later it proved to be one of the best strategic moves ever. A private company would just build a straight line between NY and california because that would be the most profitable.

  • by mc6809e ( 214243 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @11:53AM (#42989383)

    I've seen economists say that you can't buy an annuity on the free market that would give you as good a return as Social Security.

    It's one of those things that the government can do more efficiently than private enterprise.

    It has nothing to do with government efficiency, except in the sense that the government can more efficiently put young workers in jail if they don't give up enough money so the government can continue to make social security payments to retirees.

  • by vurian ( 645456 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @12:00PM (#42989421) Homepage
    Post-Soviet was pretty much free-market. Where individual waiters would lease individual tables in a restaurant to serve, or the output of particular cooks. Sit down at the wrong table in Odessa and you could only order dessert. Free market at its best, no regulations at all, just individuals trying to make the most money. Fell flat on its face, breaking its teeth, with the result that there are a bunch of super-rich oligarchs. There is no such thing as a successful free market economy. Heck, just like there has never been a real communist state following Marx precepts, there has never been a real free market economy following Ayn Rand's delusions. A free market is a delusion, and saying that it would be a solution to anything marks you as deluded.
  • by Electricity Likes Me ( 1098643 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @12:00PM (#42989425)

    Except for NASA, infrastructure spending is almost always positive returns. It generally creates local jobs - and can usually provide long term stability depending on the size of the project - and the flow on effects of road, rail and internet access can be directly correlated to economic activity. I really struggle to see how "functional road and rail" is a pet project. It's a staple of civilization. Places without functional road and rail are 3rd world countries.

    Speaking of NASA: it's not like fundamental R&D is a bad idea either. Again, it creates jobs and attracts talent - it means your universities and high-tech industries are engaged in cutting-edge work and develop and retain institutional knowledge and make other projects cheaper. The US is going to really suffer over the next two decades because it's allowed pretty much all it's major physics projects to be superceded by Europe. There's no replacement for the Tevatron at Fermilab and the consequence of that is that the US may lose the ability to even build particle accelerators in the next few years as all the people who know how you do that move on to other things or to facilities which do. The US is also cutting fusion funding with the exception of ITER - and may cut that - which is a huge strategic mistake for fairly obvious reasons.

    This isn't stuff you can just write down and forget about - if you want to be at the forefront (which, when you do depend on a technologically advanced military, is kind of important) - then you need to have people active and working on those types of advanced projects - you need students in the same laboratories as the professors.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @12:16PM (#42989537) Journal

    It is not replacing just one plane though. It is replacing 5 or 6 planes- each with different roles. Now think of this, suppose it only replaces 3 types of aircraft currently in use. No more training on 2 other aircraft to certify pilots, no more separate spare parts, storage and logistics programs for 2 other aircraft. No more cross training and specialty training of mechanics and support personnel (these aren't like cars where the concept of changing a starter is transferable to models you had no training on. mistakes can cost lives and parking a broken down jet at 35000 feet in the air will always result in an insurance claim where a car breaking down on the highway is more of a safety hazard and inconvenience.)

    The cost of the plane alone is not the only savings.

  • by geoskd ( 321194 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @12:23PM (#42989569)

    Social Security isn't bankrupt.

    To quote Paul Krugman: []

    But neither of these potential problems is a clear and present danger. Social Security has been running surpluses for the last quarter-century, banking those surpluses in a special account, the so-called trust fund. The program won’t have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program’s actuaries don’t expect to happen until 2037 — and there’s a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come. ...

    What’s really going on here?

    Whats really going on here is that trust fund you mentioned has no cash in it. It is entirely funded by "special" government bonds to social security. The result is that the cash is gone, and the government owes itself the money back. The crisis isn't that social security will go bankrupt, the crisis is that social security loaned the money to the US government as a whole, and it looks like the US government might not be willing to pay back those bonds. The US government wants to pretend those bonds wont really need to be repaid so that they can renege on the payment of the bonds. The thinking is this, if Social security is changed so that it does not pay out as much benefit to each individual, then there truly has been a surplus over the last half century. That being the case, then congress would not have to repay those bonds (because social security wouldn't need all of the money to pay its obligations). By not having to repay all of those bonds, congress could wipe that expense off the budget and as such would have more money to waste on craptastic jet fighters and tax breaks for people and companies making more money than Cuba. Its a giant game of smoke and mirrors, and its complicated enough that very few people have yet realized that the money is already gone. The rich stole it from us in the form of tax breaks for the very wealthy.

  • by D'Sphitz ( 699604 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @12:24PM (#42989589) Journal

    ...the simple fact of the matter is that entitlement spending dwarfs defense spending.

    The term "entitlement spending" is bullshit, intended to insinuate that it's referring to welfare and food stamps to get the foxnews dimwits all worked up into a froth when they hear how more money goes to dangerous minority drug addicts in the ghetto than we spend on defense. Of course, over half of that is social security, a tax that was forcibly taken from people's paychecks their whole lives, and now if they live to 100 they may get half of it back. That is not an entitlement, it's a really shitty savings plan that the people have already paid for, yet they go on and on about how social security is costing us too much and it's unsustainable. It's not costing anything because the people have already paid for it. That our inept government pissed it all away on wars and prisons doesn't change the fact that it's been paid for.

    Almost all the rest of the "entitlements" go to Medicare and Medicaid, because it's not very civilized to let our elderly and disabled citizens die in the streets. These entitlements allow people who have worked and paid taxes their whole lives to get healthcare and obtain their obscenely expensive medication that would otherwise bankrupt most people in months, because our marvelous health care system, the best in the world they say, would have them all die in the streets before dipping into obscene profits to care for aging and ailing seniors end of life care. Those must be the "death panels" I've heard about.

    The real "entitlements" as most people think of them, welfare, foodstamps, and throw in unemployment if you want, are a fraction of "entitlement spending", my brief research (a visit to google) says 8%, it took awhile to even find a chart that even specifically listed them rather than simply "other spending".

  • by geoskd ( 321194 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @12:35PM (#42989637)

    We are running a $1.6Trillion deficit per year right now and have been during the current administration. If you cut defense out completely we would have a $900 billion deficit PER YEAR!

    Ummm, no, We are currently running about $1.0 Trillion [], and that number will drop a bit as the economy recovers and tax revenue increases. Take 400 Billion out of the defense budget, and fix the tax loopholes that allow companies like Google and Microsoft to pay less than 5% taxes, and you will have closed almost the entire deficit. Moreover, as the economy recovers more, the remaining deficit will turn into a surplus that we can use to pay down some of the massive debt we racked up in the last decade. If you really want to go for the perfect game, jump the taxes on anyone making over $5 Mil back to 75%, and we won't have any more budget problems.


  • by ctrl-alt-canc ( 977108 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @12:40PM (#42989667)
    If you apply a 20% reduction to the number of pentagon sides, it shrinks to a square. You can go further, and apply a 40% reduction so that it becomes a triangle. But if you apply a 60% cut the pentagon shrinks to a segment. As a consequence workers will find quite difficult to move along the only remaining hallway. The consequences of a 80% cut are left as an exercise to the reader. It should also be obvious that applying cuts that are not multiple of 20% will change the pentagon into a fractal shape, with unpredictable consequences over the productivity of people working inside.
  • by goldstein ( 705041 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @01:09PM (#42989829)
    Pension plans offered by employers are disappearing or being scaled back. At the same time, the primary response of the financial industry is to devise ever more complex financial products that are designed to sound better than they are. We are not far from a situation where a prerequisite for retirement will be to win a lottery or be a financial planner - it is really naive to think that the average man in the street is able to adequately plan for his retirement without being backstopped by social security or something similar.
  • by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @01:18PM (#42989907)

    Yes, bribing legislatures this way is a textbook definition of corruption.

  • Wishful thinking (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Python ( 1141 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @02:38PM (#42990433)

    This statement is just wishful thinking "we have more troops than we need in a world in which we will no longer focus on fighting large, boots-on-the-ground conflicts like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Yes, the same thing was said after every single war in the 20th century as well, and was the mantra of the 90s after the Soviet Union fell. No one thought we would be fighting the kinds of wars that happened in late 90s (Serbia, Bosnia, etc.), or the Watson the early 21st century and yet here we are. This is just wishful, hopeful thinking, sure a world without wars like Afghanistan seem possible but let's face facts we didnt suddenly inherit a world filled with peaceful stable nations. There are plenty of screwed situations in the world that will likely cause more wars.

    The realy problem with the pentagon is the procurement system. Things costs too much because weapons platform developers can get modifications to their contracts, which means more money, if they don't deliver. They basically play games with the contract, unbidden with a partial solution that appears complete to dod, a well written contract, wich means they did what they said, yt need more money to deliver a complete product. It's all very legal, but its so prevalent that its a sick joke in dod.

  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @02:54PM (#42990549)

    Listen, if you told the pentagon- we are cutting 10%. You decide where.

    A few bad programs might be retained (generals personal favorites) but a lot of bad programs would be cut.

    But congress decides. The pentagon tried cutting the laser plane multiple times and congress insisted that it be continued because a powerful congressman had jobs depending on it.

    So we need to cut 10% but probably a lot of bad programs will be retained and a few good ones will be cut.

  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Saturday February 23, 2013 @04:14PM (#42991077) Journal

    But there is no trust fund, and the lockbox is full of IOUs. And it shouldn't be "I" Owe Yous, it's "You" Owe Yous.

    We hear this crap about "America's promise to its seniors!" but I don't seem to recall making any promises. I'm in my early 30s, and I was in grade school, unable to vote when the boomers were spending all the money.

    It's like they said, "Hmm, we've got this $200 here. Let's put that in the bank to save for later!" "Good idea, that's great. So, yup, got that saved. But ya know...I sure would like some of these social programs enacted. Let's write a check for $200 for that." "Great idea, great idea! And ya know, we sure could use some military spending. Gotta beat the Russians and all. Let's take out a loan against that $200 we saved." "Oh yes, of course! Capital idea there." An then now they're shocked, shocked I tell you, to come back to the bank to withdraw their $200, and it's not there! "But, but, but...we deposited $200! We want it back!" Well, yes, you did deposit $200. And then you spent it. And then you borrowed against it and spent that, too, and now there's nothing left.

    The baby boomers have looted the empire.

    Their parents built the greatest economic powerhouse the world has ever seen. They great up in the depression, then went off to fight a terrible war against tyranny and oppression. When they came home they fought to free their countrymen via the civil rights upheavals of the 1950s (that wasn't the boomers in their early teens marching in the streets). All the while they built the industrial base that dominated the global economy.

    But if their parents were the Greatest Generation, the boomers were the Worst Generation. They were the ones voting, they were the ones in control of the government in the 80s and 90s. They made all the promises, spent all the money, racked up all the debt. Their parents built an industrial base, and when the boomers took over management, they shipped all the jobs to China. Now their kids (us) are left with coffee shop jobs to show for our four-year degrees.

    They looted the empire their parents built and left a desiccated husk for their kids. Now they sit with their hands out, demanding their reward for a job well done.

  • by elashish14 ( 1302231 ) <profcalc4@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday February 23, 2013 @08:52PM (#42992661)

    Greed doesn't drive you to build better products - it drives you to make more money. And the two can often have minimal correlation. That's why you see companies form monopolies which make billions off crappy products because greed didn't drive them to make better products, it just drove them to dominate the marketplace and stamp out all competitors. I'm looking straight at you, Microsoft. Or alternatively, to make the barriers so high that no one has a shot in hell of making it into the ring.

    The free market is a total failure. The common pathology is for wealth to accumulate into few parties, then for these few parties to collude and raise prices (oil industry, internet service providers), or better yet, merge together (think telecommunications). So in short, greed doesn't work.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.