10 Ways to Cut the Military Budget by 25 to 50%

November 20, 2013

The following is paper devloped as part of a campaign by many organizations to tell Congress to support a Budget for People, Peace and the Planet, by cutting the bloated military budget, meeting dire needs at home and reinvesting in our future. A petition showing public support for the campaign is online now.

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10 Ways to Cut the Military Budget by 25 to 50%

US military spending is somewhere from $700 billion annually (a 100% increase in the last decade) to over a trillion dollars when you add in interest payments from past wars, nuclear power weapons, intelligence gathering, Veteran benefits, Homeland Security and more. It represents more than half of the discretionary spending in the federal budget and half of the world military spending.

The first step in making cuts in the 25 to 50% range it to refocus our military spending from being the world's policemen to the traditional approach of nonintervention and defending against  invasion. The US present strategic doctrine is "full spectrum dominance - air, land, sea, space, cyberspace. " This neocon strategy advanced by the Bush administration and  continued under Obama is to protect "our" corporate and strategic interests abroad. This doctrine  is inherently opposed to cooperative security doctrines that rely on building mutual trust, joint security for sea lanes, etc., and progressive disarmament.

1. Audit the Pentagon – Up to 33% unjustified = $100s of billions per year potential savings.

The military budget is so out of control and government oversight is so lax that the federal government has given up trying to audit it. There was an effort late in the Clinton administration to start reconciling transactions with documentation in the Department of Defense. They audited $7 trillion in transactions and found that they could not justify $2.3 trillion of it.   In 2011, the General Accounting Office reported "serious financial-management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements unauditable". See Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013, Cong. Lee (HR 559).

2.  Focus on defending U.S. rather than policing the world – up to $100 billion per year.

National security means defending our nation from invasion or true military aggression. With oceans being two of our borders, and two allies (Canada and Mexico) being the other borders, US is one of the safest countries in the world in terms of external military threats. We do not need to militarize our borders against nonexistent military threats or in violation of the human right to seek refuge from economic or political oppression. The annual cost of our 1,100 overseas bases in over 130 countries is over $100 billion. Stop using our military to protect oil companies and multinational corporations.

3. Use government employees rather than outside contractors – up to $100 billion per year.

Outside military contractors cost on average nearly twice as much as the federal workers who do the same job. The Defense Department employs 900,000 civilians - more than twice as many as the next-largest agency (Veterans Affairs) and equal to the remaining federal agencies combined. There are also 560,000 active-duty military personnel who "never deploy," and an estimated 700,000 "ghost" civil servants—contractors doing government jobs. Sen. Coburn (R-OK) has called for staffing a quarter of these jobs -- handling supply chain, transportation, human resources, communications —with cheaper civilian employees, saving $5 billion annually. Four think tanks have recommended reducing the Pentagon’s civilian workforce by between 10 and 27 percent. Add to that outright contractor fraud, which some critics contend runs as high as $100 billion a year.

There were numerous examples of war profiteering involving billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghani station by firms such as Halliburton and Blackwater/XE/KBR.

Reducing reliance on service contractors in the DoD was a priority of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The annual cost of DoD service contracts has nearly tripled since 2000; many service contractors are performing inherently governmental functions. Cutting these contracts by 15% would save $37 billion annually.

A 15 percent reduction in non-DoD national security agency spending on all service contracts would save $33 billion over the year, while leaving service contract spending at these agencies at a higher level than it was in 2007. 

4. Bring all our troops and military contractors home from Iraq and Afghanistan - $96 billion per year.

Every hour, US taxpayers paid $11.26 million for Total Cost of Wars Since 2001. http://costofwar.com

5. Reduce the size and cost of military's back office bureaucracy - $80 billion per year.

Cutting Pentagon overhead for its back-office bureaucracy from the private industry average of 25%  would save roughly $80 billion a year. A RAND study of overhead and administration costs among defense contractors found them to be “tremendous drivers” of weapon costs at 35 percent. The largest government domestic programs—Social Security and Medicare—get by with overhead costs in the single-digits.

6. Reduce our nuclear weapons arsenal - $35 billion per year.

We spend $60 a year on nuclear weapons. We could save $35 billion by reducing our nuclear weapons arsenal - which Russia says it would match. The Project on Government Oversight has recommend nearly $40 billion in savings in 10 years through redesigning or ending various nuclear weapons facilities. Sen. Markey when in the House introduced the SANE bill (HR 1506) to cut $100 billion over 10 years in nuclear weapon costs. 

7. Stop spending 10s of billions of dollars on weapon systems that don’t work - $13 billion per year

A Government Accountability Office study found that the effectiveness of spending oversight was limited by not being able to require that weapon be proven to work before going to production or use in the field. A 2008 report noted recent examples that didn’t, such as the Hellfire missiles on the MH-60S Armed Helicopter Weapons System.  The missiles were designed to hang from external launchers on the chopper’s side, but when fired during a training incident the force of the launch caused the launchers to break loose and pierce the copter’s fuselage.

Taxpayers for Common Sense have proposed eliminating various weapon systems that would save more than $130 billion over ten years. For instance, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system consists of 30 interceptors designed to destroy ballistic missiles in mid-flight; This Missile Defense Agency program has been plagued by cost increases, test failures, and delays. Freezing its development would save $6 billion

8. The military should stop duplicating existing government and private programs like health care, recreation centers and grocery stores - $9 billion per year

Ten percent of the Pentagon’s non-war budget—$53 billion—goes to health care. It would be much cheaper to cover all Americans with Medicare. The cost of TRICARE, DoD’s health care system, has more than doubled in the last decade. Many military retirees who are fully employed and have health insurance available still opt for TRICARE, which amounts to a government subsidy for employers. Congress has prevented attempts to halt this spending trajectory in the past.

9.  Stop spending American tax dollars to defend Japan, Europe and S. Korea – over $3 billion per year.

There are more than 80,000 U.S. troops stationed in Europe. The U.S. has built the capacity to deploy rapidly from offshore bases as needed.  Removing just half of our troops in Europe—40,000 troops— would save at least $32 billion over the next ten years. Japan has 50,000 American soldiers on 90 US military facilities, particularly in Okinawa. Their presence is a constant source of tension with local populations due to crimes (e.g., sexual attacks) committed by the servicemen, military flights and land use. While Japan does pay for much of the costs, the US will spend $3 billion to transfer troops to Guam. The United States has 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which pays about 40% of their costs.

10. Stop spending 10s of billions of dollars on weapon systems that are not needed a form of corporate welfare. Many immediately mothballed upon completion.

The U.S. has so many tanks – which they don’t use – that they mothball thousands in the deserts across the U.S., as the government continues to build new ones, despite objections from the leaders of the Armed Forces.  Tanks were needed to fight a land war in Europe in the 1950s. A classic example of spending money to fight the last wa rather than prepare for current military needs.

The NY Post recently  that $567 million was wasted by the Air Force for a dozen new cargo planes (C-27J) that were delivered directly to a storage unit in the Arizona desert since there is no use for the planes. The desert complex is home to an estimated $35 billion in planes which there is no use for. The Pentagon could save billions by canceling the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which breaks down on average after eight hours of use and is ten years behind schedule. Marines haven't stormed a beach in nearly half a century.

Another unwanted system is the next-generation” Long-Range Strike Bombers to augment the Air Force’s fleet of B-52, B-1B, and B-2 planes, which drop both nuclear and conventional bombs. The Pentagon says there no need for the 100 planes being built. Savings would be $6 billion.

Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan, notes that the US "fields 11 aircraft carriers, while no other country has even one of comparable size and power." New carrier construction costs $15 billion. And while aircraft carriers were important in WWII, they are just sitting expensive ducks in the age of missiles. Korb details myriad examples of how the various armed services waste tens of billions arming themselves with competing and duplicative copies of the same weapons (e.g., Joint Striker Fighter jets). The Pentagon gets rid of tens of billions of "surplus equipment", often in new condition, for pennies on the dollar, while spending enormous amount to replace the equipment. They were selling chemical protective suits for $3 while other units were buying the same exact one for $200. (R. Nader, The 17  Solutions)

If you support cutting military spending 25-50%, go here to sign the petition for a Budget for People, Peace and the Planet.

If your organization supports this, organizations can sign on here.