Opinion

The Pentagon is spending taxpayer dollars on what?

Amber Smith Military Advisor, Concerned Veterans for America

The Department of Defense has continued to cry wolf about the possible results of sequestration. But before making serious claims about not being able to promote our soldiers, or move them to new locations, or attend military schools essential for career advancement, they should probably take a closer look at what the Pentagon is spending taxpayer dollars on.

In an attempt to persuade congress from letting sequestration happen again next year, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently sent a letter to Congress stating that the DOD would have to inflict “an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent change of station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing promotions,” in addition to cutting weapons programs and other actions that will hinder military readiness and weaken national security.

Well, that just sounds terrible doesn’t it?

Before you panic, thinking our military has no money to conduct business, consider the following expenditures that are currently a priority to the Pentagon in the wake of sequestration.

The military recently spent $34 million on a construction project in Afghanistan. The money was spent building a headquarters for planning U.S. military operations. Unfortunately, the structure is unoccupied and will most likely never be used. It will either be demolished or handed over to the Afghans.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State received $3.5 million from the Department of Defense to purchase land around the base to protect gophers that inhabit the area. The DOD also gave Eglin Air Force Base in Florida $1.75 million to save a tortoise habitat.

Less known, but even more wasteful is the military’s acquisition process. The U.S. Army has been attempting to find a replacement for the current light attack/reconnaissance helicopter, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior for over 3 decades. First came the Comanche helicopter program, but after 21 years and $6.9 billion the program was cancelled.

Next the Army developed the ARH-70 (Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter) program which was cancelled after 4 years and cost the taxpayers $3 billion. Most recently, the U.S. Army decided to put on hold their $6-8 billion Armed Aerial Scout helicopter program.

30 years and $10-15 billion of taxpayer dollars later, the U.S. Army only has an updated version of the original OH-58D helicopter they’ve sought to replace. The Kiowa Warrior (as aged as it is) was an essential aircraft through out the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintains the most successful mission capability and readiness rate of any other helicopter in the Army’s fleet.

What this comes down to is uncontrollable waste. The Pentagon’s spending priorities are disheveled in addition to their fiscal mismanagement and decision-making abilities. Spending millions on gophers and vacant buildings is a classic example of fraud, waste, and abuse of not only military assets, but taxpayer dollars as well. The Department of Defense even has a hotline people can call for waste like that. And wasting billions on mere attempts to improve military equipment shows a completely broken system that must be addressed.

When sequestration happens in fiscal year 2014, the Pentagon is facing $52 billion in defense cuts. While it is excessive for the Pentagon to have to make the majority of the cuts (in FY13 DOD received 50% of the cuts) it should look at this as wake up call to decades of irresponsible spending and an expanding bureaucracy whose priorities must be checked.

Secretary Hagel must reform the spending practices within the Department of Defense if he wants Congress to take his words of warning seriously. If the Pentagon had cut the waste and was spending appropriately previously, he would have a legitimate complaint. But making panic-stricken statements about the budget shows a lack of resolve with regard to the department’s spending problem. Basically, it is easier to keep receiving money than to address the real problem: out-of-control appropriations with zero accountability, and wasteful programs within the DOD.

Words of advice: before you go to Congress threatening all sorts of dramatic consequences for sequestration, eliminate the vast amount of waste within the DOD. Trim the fat, not the muscle.

Amber Barno is a writer and commentator and member of Concerned Veterans for America. She is a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information visit www.amberbarno.com and follow her on Twitter: @AmberBarno