Defense budget 101.

Military analysis.
Feb. 7 2006 12:20 PM

Defense Budget 101

How much are we really spending?

The F-22A stealth fighter
Click image to expand.
The F-22A stealth fighter

The new military budget—released Monday by the White House and the Pentagon —has even more smoke, mirrors, and rabbit-stuffed sleeves than usual.

Let us first dispel the official claim, blithely recited by most news reports, that this budget amounts to $439.3 billion—in itself a staggering sum, but by any proper measure, it really totals $513 billion, and, if looked at from a certain angle, it comes to over $580 billion.

Advertisement

You have to go digging through various portals and annexes to find most of this hidden money, but once you push the right doors, the stash is all sitting there in plain view.

One way that administrations understate the magnitude of military spending (and this practice long antedates George W. Bush) is to talk only about the "Department of Defense budget." Yet this comprises only a portion (though, granted, the largest portion) of what officials outside the Pentagon call the "national defense budget."

The DoD budget for fiscal year 2007 is indeed $439.3 billion (though more about that computation in a moment). But look at the Office of Management and Budget's "Analytical Perspectives" documents, specifically Table 27-1, "Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category and Program." The category called "National Defense" includes not only the Defense Department's budget but also the "defense activities" of the Department of Energy (mainly nuclear warheads and the national weapons labs, totaling $16 billion) and several other federal agencies ($4.4 billion), as well as $3.3 billion in various "mandatory" programs (mainly accrual payments to the military retirement fund).

Add them up, and you reach $463 billion.

But that's not all. The OMB analysts also include the $50 billion that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he will request in "supplemental" funds for FY 2007, sometime this year, to cover anticipated expenses of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That brings the total to $513 billion.

And there's more. The Pentagon also announced Monday that it would ask Congress for $70 billion as a supplemental to fund war costs for the rest of FY 2006 (which lasts until this coming October). Strictly speaking, this $70 billion doesn't count in a toting up of military appropriations for FY 2007. But if you view the whole budget package simply as a request for more new money, whether for next year or slipped in through the back door of this year, then that takes us to $583 billion.

The administration's second budgetary sleight of hand (again, not invented by Bush's people) involves a more basic conceptual confusion—the tacit notion that more money means more defense. Nobody expresses this equation explicitly, yet few officials or politicians are willing to challenge it, either. (When legislators vote to cut a weapon system, for whatever reason, they know that their opponent in the next election will call them "soft on defense," if not "unpatriotic.")

It would be a miracle of modern bureaucracy if every line item in a half-trillion-dollar national defense budget were essential, or even useful, to national defense (however you want to define that concept). Here, taken from the FY07 budget, are a few rebuttals to the belief in miracles:

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 10:44 AM Bull---- Market America is overlooking a plentiful renewable resource: animal manure.
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.