Can the Pentagon pay for the war and its new toys?

Military analysis.
Aug. 16 2006 1:30 PM

The Money Pit

Can the Pentagon pay for the war and its new toys?

Donald Rumsfeld. Click image to expand.
Donald Rumsfeld

If you think the invasion of Iraq was poorly planned, take a look at the Pentagon budget.

The appalling extent of the problem is spelled out in the July 28 edition of a little-known online newsletter called Budget Bulletin, published once a month or so by the Senate Budget Committee's Republican staff.

Advertisement

Drawing on the Defense Department's own data, the GOP staffers conclude that, over the coming decade, the military will fall drastically short of the money it needs to buy, operate, and maintain all the weapons systems churning through the pipeline. And though the newsletter doesn't say so explicitly, the main sources of this crisis are clear: the service chiefs' extravagant taste for more, new, complex weapons; the Pentagon managers' failure to set priorities; and Congress' tendency to pile on even more money than the military requests in order to swell the payrolls of local arms manufacturers.

It comes down to this: Since 2001, the defense budget has been growing by an average of 11.1 percent a year (adjusting for inflation and not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). This year, owing to fiscal pressures brought on by the skyrocketing deficit, the Pentagon pledged to scale back its growth rate through the end of the decade to 3.4 percent a year.

However, during their flush years, the Army, Navy, and Air Force started up or expanded so many new weapons programs—and so many of these programs have suffered such steep cost overruns—that the Pentagon budget will have to grow at a far higher rate. The GOP Senate staffers calculate that by next decade, the budget, now at around $400 billion (not including the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars), will have to grow by about one-third, to $530 billion (not including either the wars or the effects of the overall economy's inflation).

Unless, of course, several big-ticket weapons programs are slashed or killed. But this isn't likely to happen for a number of reasons. The service chiefs will fight for the programs in order to retain their share of the budget. Powerful congressional chairmen will fight for them in order to retain constituents' contracts. Finally, there's no great incentive to kill weapons anyway because the short-term savings are so paltry; and, in politics, the short term is all that matters.

The Republican staffers draw particular attention to an annual Defense Department document called Selected Acquisition Report. The SAR, as it's known to insiders, lists all of the Pentagon's R&D programs that cost at least $365 million and all procurement programs that cost at least $2.19 billion. The problem is, this list is swelling.

The SAR of September 2001 included 71 programs that were projected to cost, from start to finish, a total of $790 billion. The SAR of December 2005 (the most recent edition available at the time of the Budget Bulletin's analysis) contained 85 programs with a total projected cost of $1.58 trillion—20 percent more weapons programs costing twice as much money.

Since the Bulletin was published, the Pentagon has released its latest quarterly SAR, which lists the data as of June 30, 2006. The list now contains 87 programs projected to cost $1.61 trillion. In other words, the estimated cost of the Pentagon's big-ticket items has gone up by $30 billion in just the past six months.

And the cost is likely to grow higher still. Of that $1.61 trillion, $909 billion—or 56 percent—has yet to be spent. In other words, a lot of these weapons programs are still in their early stages.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The NFL Has No Business Punishing Players for Off-Field Conduct. Leave That to the Teams.

Meet the Allies the U.S. Won’t Admit It Needs in Its Fight Against ISIS

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Medical Examiner

How to Stop Ebola

Survivors might be immune. Let’s recruit them to care for the infected.

History

America in Africa

The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.

New GOP Claim: Hillary Clinton’s Wealth and Celebrity Are Tricks to Disguise Her Socialism

Why the Byzantine Hiring Process at Universities Drives Academics Batty

Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 3:29 PM The Fascinating Origins of Savannah, Georgia’s Distinctive Typeface
  News & Politics
History
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM America in Africa The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Education
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM Why Your Cousin With a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case  Understanding the Byzantine hiring process that drives academics up the wall.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 23 2014 11:37 PM How to Stop Ebola Could survivors safely care for the infected?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?