Tags: pentagon | cuts | obama

Expert: Obama Can Find Billions in 'Bloated' Pentagon

Monday, 01 Dec 2008 09:23 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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Barack Obama has vowed to cut waste in a federal budget that “bleeds billions” to help offset the costs of a huge stimulus package. But where are the cuts to come from? One expert says start with some no-brainer budget slashing at the “bloated” Department of Defense.

Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense for Ronald Reagan and a fellow at the Center for American Progress, recommends to President-elect Barack Obama to shave off tens-of-billions of dollars each year by dumping some obsolete Cold War weapons. Says Korb:

  • Scrap the F/A-22 fighter jet program, designed in the 1980s to fight a conventional ground war in Europe. The U.S. is in the midst of expanding that fleet to 183 jets at a hefty price tag of $65 billion.

  • Scrap a good portion of the $12 billion National Missile Defense program (the old “Star Wars”). Because of its record of failure, Korb suggests the new president cut $8 billion from its funding.

  • Kick-off an immediate withdrawal of forces from Iraq.

  • At long last heed President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning against the rise of the military-industrial complex. Every administration has allowed the Pentagon and the defense industry to throttle up the degree of “unwarranted influence” Eisenhower feared, says Korb. Since 2001, defense spending has doubled – with President George W. Bush requesting a walloping $711 billion in defense spending for 2009.

  • Make a fundamental changes in the balance between spending on military forces and other less expensive security tools -- like diplomacy, nonproliferation, foreign aid and homeland security.

    On that final bullet point, Kolb points out:

    “Foreign policy by military force is underwritten at 21 times the level allocated to all non-military forms of engagement with the world; it receives 14 times the amount devoted to protecting the homeland; it will outspend defense and prevention put together, that is, all forms of non-military security spending, by a factor of 9-to-1.

    “In other words, the President’s proposed budget would devote 90 percent of our foreign and security policy resources to engaging the world through military force,” Kolb concludes.

    Kolb and other experts as well question a big anomaly in spending that they suggest also needs a reality check that would transfer into those elusive cuts.

    Federal budgets keep knocking away at spending for Cooperative Threat Reduction, one of the key programs securing and dismantling international stockpiles of nuclear material and delivery systems to keep them away from terrorists. At the same time, however, the budgets up spending on new designs for nuclear weapons.

    Obvious money-saving solution – don’t spend at cross-purposes.

    Kolb and other experts all agree that the DoD cuts are really the low-hanging fruit for the budget paring knives. As sensitive as defense spending can be, it doesn’t compare to treading on the third-rail icons such as social security and Medicare.

    Although the DoD may represent the most appealing low-hanging fruit when it comes to cuts, there will still be opposition.

    When chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., revealed last month that he was poised to slash defense spending by more than $150 billion from the roughly $607 billion in defense spending that was enacted in fiscal year 2008, he got an immediate Republican response.

    Sen. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., shot back that America must be prepared to fight two different kinds of wars. “What we’re now fighting is a war that we haven’t fought in the past that is against a small nation that has limited technical capabilities,” he said. “But still this has stretched our military to fight this war. In the future we will have to fear either a resurgent Russia or China. And it takes a whole different kind of military to do that.”

    Even before Obama was elected, senior Pentagon officials were getting acclimated to a no-more-business-as-usual reality. Already moving toward the cutting block are other low-hanging DoD programs:

  • the Transformational Satellite System, an space-based communications program valued at $18 billion;

  • the Army’s Future Combat Systems, a $161 billion program designed to integrate advanced weaponry and information networks;

  • the Joint Strike Fighter program, which, at an estimated $300 billion, is the military’s most expensive weapons program ever undertaken;

  • The Navy’s $27 billion DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class program of multi-mission destroyers is also on the short list -- with Navy Officials already on record that the program will be scaled back.

    But according to a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) analysis, there are some expensive lurking landmines for Obama -- even as the military hopefully draws down and throttles back:

  • With the Iraq war winding down, the Army will be faced with serious equipment shortages when units return home. Resetting the force and replacing worn out equipment will cost tens-of-billions of dollars, experts predict.

  • The Marine Corps faces staffing, equipment, and procurement challenges. A 2006 assessment of the service’s equipment needs found that nearly half of the Marine Corps’ assets had been shipped to Iraq; replacement and repair costs could run upwards of $20 billion dollars.

    The bottom line, say CFR analysts, is that a President Obama will be in no easy position to make a dramatic course shift, especially when cutting defense programs could mean slashing defense-tied jobs during a recession.

    “Nothing is going to change in the next couple of years,” Jon B. Kutler, head of an aerospace private equity firm in California, told the Los Angeles Times. “These things don’t turn on a dime.”

    Meanwhile, Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, argues that unlike defense cuts during the Carter and Clinton administrations, Obama will lead in a more complex environment of threats and priorities -- and that means spending may never come back down to earth.

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