• Pentagon cuts won’t weaken defense
     | November 29,2011

    Now that the congressional “super-committee” has failed to trim $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years in federal government spending, some legislators, Pentagon officials and their media allies are trying to stop cuts in military spending. The American taxpayer is being told that any but modest cuts in military spending will leave this nation vulnerable to attack. Unfortunately former Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has joined this misleading chorus (Times Argus commentary, Nov. 8).

    Mr. Dubie, a commercial airline pilot and brother of Michael Dubie, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, is described as the chairman of the Aerospace States Association Aviation Committee. ASA is an industry lobbying group.

    As a lobbyist for what President Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex,” something the president warned us against, Mr. Dubie fails to mention studies done that describe ways that the military budget can be cut and not diminish this country’s ability to defend itself and its allies.

    I suggest that decisions on how many tax dollars to spend on the military should be based on thoughtful and honest answers to the questions of what we want the military to do and how the Pentagon spends the hundreds of billions of dollars it gets each year.

    The answer to that second question is nobody knows. According to a 2010 report by the Sustainable Defense Task Force “the Department of Defense (DoD) is one of only a few federal agencies that cannot pass, nor even stand for, the test of an independent auditor. Among this handful of errant agencies, DoD is both the worst offender and the most consistent.”

    The task force quotes the Defense Department inspector general as finding that the weaknesses in the department’s financial system “affect the safeguarding of assets, proper use of funds, and impair the prevention and identification of fraud, waste and abuse.”

    In 2010 Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act, which requires the Pentagon to be audit ready by 2017.

    The task force, created at the behest of Republican and Democratic members of Congress, calls for weapons acquisition reform. It reports that the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that “major weapons programs are suffering $300 billion (with a B) in cost overruns.” The task force adds that “the number of weapons programs exhibiting one or more characteristic problems — over budget, late in delivery, less capability than expected — has steadily risen.”

    The Aerospace States Association is, of course, not the only lobby for ever-growing military spending; there are hundreds. Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman (both ASA “partners”) and Boeing, three of the largest military contractors, in 2010 alone spent over $46 million lobbying for increased military spending. And that is not the only clout they have with federal legislators. Donations to congressional and presidential election campaigns certainly make decision-makers listen. So does the fact that the manufacturing of components of many weapons systems is strategically located in so many congressional districts that Congress, to protect jobs, has often overridden even the Pentagon in maintaining production of systems better suited to a strategic environment that no longer exists.

    This clout has resulted in a proposed 2012 military budget that is 60 percent of the discretionary budget of the U.S. It results in the U.S., in 2010, accounting for 43 percent of the world’s total military expenditures, without counting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In that year China’s share was 7.3 percent.

    To those who argue that by cutting military spending you eliminate many jobs, the reality is that by plowing back the money saved into job-creating programs, which really enhance our nation’s security and well-being, many more jobs would be created. The Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that spending tax dollars on the military creates far fewer jobs than spending on other sectors of the economy such as health care, education and alternative energy systems.

    The task force recommended cuts in military spending that total $960 billion over 10 years. How much more could be cut if the U.S. were to also close most of the 1,000 military bases and installations it maintains around the world? The total cuts would then exceed the super-committee’s goal without touching programs that serve the most vulnerable amongst us.

    Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1985, says that “since the defense budget has grown by more than 50 percent over the past 10 years, it can easily absorb a 15 percent reduction ($950 billion) — which would be about half the defense cuts of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon and less than that of George H.W. Bush.”

    Yes, there is a lot of pork fat in the military budget. But little will be trimmed if Mr. Dubie and his fellow lobbyists continue to succeed in the halls of Congress and the Pentagon.

    Joseph Gainza, of Plainfield, founded the group Vermont Action for Peace.

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