The Pork in the Military Budget

There is perhaps no more important role the federal government has than providing national security. However, various special interests have been using this for their own benefit at the expense of the American people. As has been consistent for decades, several businesses have been using the defense bill to protect their industries, which has led to waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending with the taxpayers footing the bill.

On June 25th, the House Appropriations Committee released its markup on the spending bill for the Pentagon for FY 2018. Unsurprisingly, it was packed with sections specifically designed to benefit certain companies over others. Primarily, it did so by disqualifying various competitors who could have provided the same goods for cheaper.

Throughout the legislation, there are various sections that say “None of the funds in this Act may be available for the purchase by the Department of Defense (and its departments and agencies) of…unless…manufactured in the United States from components which are substantially manufactured in the United States…”

This is intentionally designed to cut down on foreign competitors and give preferred treatment to well-connected companies. As a result, everything from anchors to chains to carbon, alloy, and armor steel plates to ball and roller bearings have to be made by American companies (with some exceptions for Canada) despite the fact that there are few to none security concerns for these objects being made by foreign (and potentially cheaper) competition.

Unsurprisingly, nine of the top ten contractors of 2014 are headquartered in the United States (with half of those ten headquartered close to D.C., in either Maryland or Virginia) with most of their money coming from military spending. In 2013, it was reported that of the $385 million doled out to private companies, “almost a third of [it] has flowed into the coffers of just 10 top contractors.” Inevitably, the money is going to the well-connected as opposed to the best qualified.

In addition, Congress is also actively trying to stop the Pentagon from cutting spending. As part of the markup, the bill also prohibits spending that would restructure the military in a way that might result in downsizing. This includes the prevention of shutting down bases and “to reduce or disestablish the operation of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force Reserve,” the latter of which is located in the district of House Appropriations Committee member Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.).

What is sad is this comes at a time when the military is actually suggesting closures and realignments. The Pentagon has actually suggested shutting down bases it no longer needs, which has saved $12 billion since 1988. Likewise, the Department of Defense has concluded that it will have in 2019 total excess capacity of 22 percent, with the Army having an excess overhead of 33 percent, the Air Force projected to have a 32 percent surplus, and the Navy and Marine Corps together having a 7 percent surplus.

This seems to have become a continuous cycle of waste. Over the past several years, Congress has continually been approving funding for equipment the military did not want. This seems to have been going on for decades as it was discovered in the 1980s that the Pentagon was overspending on common items.

The United States military budget is loaded with pork, earmarks, and overspending that is neither necessary nor desired. The most recent bill already has that and is actively preventing cuts from the bloated budget from happening. Competition needs to be opened, cuts need to be allowed, and reform (including a full audit) needs to be pursued.