Starting in 2003, the United States for the first time fought wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, without a tax to pay for them. Ironically, the core Defense budget during the Bush administration was supposed to include funds for such events.
The September 2001 quadrennial review, which laid the policy foundation for the Bush fiscal 2003 Pentagon budget, called for forces that could “swiftly defeat aggression in overlapping major conflicts while preserving for the president the option to call for a decisive victory in one of those conflicts — including the possibility of regime change or occupation.” That sounds a lot like foreseeing the invasion of Iraq that came 18 months later. The plan said the military also could, within the proposed budget, “Conduct a limited number of smaller-scale contingency operations.”
Still, supplemental budgets were sought for the two wars, putting the costs, now near $1.5 trillion, on a credit card.
Meanwhile, Defense’s core budget has risen about 4 percent a year, adjusted for inflation, except for the past two years. As Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) points out, President Obama’s plan to reduce 100,000 Army troops and Marines over the next five years will still leave ground forces larger than those existing at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
Then there are the funds wasted on failed efforts to modernize weapons systems. According to a 2011 CSBA study, “Over the past decade, at least a dozen major programs were terminated without any operational systems being fielded. The sunk cost of the terminated programs . . . for example, totals some $46 billion.” The Pentagon also is paying hundreds of millions to upgrade some systems, such as the F-22 stealth fighter plane.
Overruns are a problem at all levels. A recent Government Accountability Office report, for example, found that the Pentagon’s six computer systems that produce auditable financial statements for all the military services “experienced cost increases of $8 billion and schedule delays ranging from 1.5 to 12.5 years.”
No other government entity would have been permitted to continue getting almost unlimited funding in the face of its past lack of fiscal controls.
Wasteful war-zone spending also has been well documented, but the money continues to flow.
Over the past decade, the United States has spent about $11.7 billion on facilities for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). But, as an audit released last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found: “The Afghan government will likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014 and the expected decrease in U.S. and coalition support.”