A recently uncovered evaluation of Pentagon spending shows $125 billion could be slashed within five years, showcasing the challenge for the incoming Trump administration to make government more efficient, an effort that will also be tested by Trump’s call for a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending.
The Pentagon study was commissioned to find areas of administrative bloat that could be then channeled toward actual military projects. The review was finished by the Defense Business Board in January 2015 and suggested $125 billion could be cut over a five-year span. However, the Washington Post reports the amount of waste was so massive that officials buried the study.
“Uncovering the bloat is not a surprise, and covering it up is also not a surprise,” said Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz, who believes $125,000,000,000 in unnecessary spending at the Pentagon is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The Pentagon has never passed a financial audit, so we know that there’s a lot more waste even than the Defense Business Board found,” Schatz told WND and Radio America.
One of the most glaring findings from the Defense Business Board is that a quarter of the Pentagon’s $580 billion budget was spent on overhead, such as human resources, accounting and other line items not directly related to training and fighting.
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Tom Schatz:
“Right now, the Pentagon has almost an equal number of civilian personnel and contractors as it does troops, which seems to be a little bit too much in terms of support. You should have more troops than support,” Schatz said.
While the Defense Business Board recommended reallocating the wasted money toward combat-related programs in future years, Schatz said it’s not that easy to make those changes.
“A lot of people who have run the Pentagon have tried to get things done to make the whole operation run more effectively,” he said. “Congress gets in the way as well. It’s difficult to get rid of a wasteful program or even reduce staff.”
Schatz said this kind of waste has been going on at the Pentagon for decades. His own organization was founded to follow up on the government waste-cutting recommendations of the Grace Commission – a panel commissioned by President Reagan. In 1984, the Grace Commission uncovered billions and future trillions that could be cut throughout government. Congress ignored the recommendations.
He said the findings on the Pentagon look pretty familiar.
“The Grace Commission found a lot of similar expenditures at the Pentagon. Five of the 47 Grace Commission task force reports were on the Pentagon, a lot of it dealing with procurement and personnel,” he said.
Schatz also said defense officials missed a golden opportunity to come clean to Congress.
“The report itself said take this money and use it for more important defense purposes. The Pentagon brass apparently didn’t trust Congress to do that. I think they would have received this quite well. Congress has closed unnecessary military bases when they needed to. They would certainly cut back on this kind of overhead,” Schatz said.
Many Trump supporters are expecting him to tackle government waste head-on and were encouraged by his call for Boeing to scrap construction of a new Air Force One after going above budget on the project.
Schatz said Trump needs people who will actually address these issues.
“We hope that’s the case. I think taxpayers and voters brought Donald Trump here to do these kinds of things. He’s not attached to any of these matters or any of the companies that are involved,” Schatz said. “It’s time to make changes. A number of the people coming in have longstanding business experience.
“While the government is not a business, it’s very difficult to fire people, which is part of the problem. They can certainly initiate more ways to spend the tax dollars effectively.”
Also looming on the horizon is Trump’s trillion-dollar plan to revitalize U.S. infrastructure. Conservative critics see it as a big-government rerun of the Obama stimulus, but Schatz believes that is highly unlikely. Done right, he thinks a targeted approach could actually be a boon to the U.S.
“I don’t see any way a Republican Congress approves another stimulus, so it won’t look anything like that,” he said. “If it’s done properly and it’s done by pushing a lot of that money down to the states so that they can spend it effectively – and the way that transportation funds are spent overall is part of this deal – then, yes, some of this could be very helpful.”
But he said they need to avoid horrific ideas like the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” that overwhelmingly passed through a GOP-controlled Congress and was signed by George W. Bush.
He said there are also really bad ideas from the Obama stimulus that should not be duplicated.
“We don’t need the federal government to go back to paying for streetscapes and street lights in the middle of a small town, which is part of what happened under the stimulus and the transportation bill in 2006,” Schatz said.
So can it realistically be done in an efficient way that doesn’t result in myriads of wasteful projects?
“Saying that we need a trillion dollars is not the same as putting the legislation into place and determining how it can be done,” Schatz said. “There’s a lot of talk about public-private partnerships. There might be more roads with tolls that help pay for the roads. So there are ways to pay for some of this in the way the construction is done and how the funding is done into the future.”