The basic “inefficiency” finding in the Defense Business Board study reported in the Dec. 6 front-page article “Pentagon hid study revealing $125 billion in waste” has been apparent for a long time.
The Defense Department’s budget submissions to Congress have shown that operations and maintenance appropriations — as opposed to military personnel, procurement, and research and development appropriations — have consistently dominated defense budgets for years. The department’s budget plan submitted in 2013 showed, for example, that the $561.6 billion it expected to spend in fiscal 2017 included operations and maintenance, $221.6 billion; military personnel, $151.7 billion; procurement, $117.5 billion; and research and development, $66.3 billion.
Operations and maintenance covers everything not covered under the military personnel, procurement, and research and development accounts. That includes civilian pay and benefits, supply and maintenance, fuel, base operations, support contractors and all the other things that have to be done to run a half-trillion-dollar-a-year agency.
Doing all those things more efficiently is certainly desirable. As the study pointed out, however, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for that to occur will be for Congress to become willing to forgo at least some of the spending in districts across the country.
Christopher Hanks, Milwaukee
The article “Pentagon hid study revealing $125 billion in waste” said that “under the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Pentagon will be forced to stomach $113 billion in automatic cuts over four years.” The act actually imposes caps, which amount to budget cuts only when compared with what the Pentagon would like to spend. In reality, the caps will keep spending growing at about the pace of inflation.
The article also said that the report’s estimated savings “could have paid a large portion of the bill to rebuild the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal.” The arsenal is aging, but, contrary to the implication here, we’ve maintained it well over the years, and considerable sums are budgeted to pay for its modernization.
Benjamin Friedman, Washington
The writer is a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute.
We need to spend defense dollars wisely. The report may have shed light, but we are still in the dark on what that light revealed. Were the report’s recommendations valid or actionable, or just a list of nifty ideas invented by consulting experts?
Many people have witnessed contractors arrive, ask a lot of questions and then go off to write some strategic plan. (My defense agency had three such gold-plated and somewhat useless studies going on last spring.)
I suggest the Defense Department look at the cost of contractors being paid to give advice. The real error here is outsourcing leadership. The path to efficiency is directors and deputies coming up with their own ideas for action.
Thomas M. Keithly, Fairfax
This article did not provide balance regarding the needs of the Pentagon for contractor assistance, particularly in the area of financial management. The Pentagon has been working for 25 years to get a clean opinion on its financial statements; the services and agencies have hired many contractors from accounting firms and consulting firms to achieve this goal.
In the process, these efforts have returned more than their cost. I can’t speak for all contractors, but financial management improvement has probably been a good value.
Richard B. Calahan, Springfield