Fighting inflation will require the US government to begin balancing its books, and it will have to cut costs to do so. One of the largest areas to cut costs is the military, and while its fashionable for conservatives to spend big on military, the truth of the matter is that the military is inherently wasteful. It spends without abandon, and the taxpayer doesn’t seem to get everything they pay for from it.
We can in fact cut 10% to even 20% of the military’s budget without much harm, however, past efforts to do this never really yielded much success, because they simply trimmed at the edges without addressing real, systemic issues that exist. Republicans would do well to address these issues.
The top issue that makes the Pentagon expensive is bureaucracy. The military employs over 750,000 civilians and over 500,000 contractors. Many of these jobs make sense for civilians to execute because they require deep knowledge in an individual field, but plenty of them are administrative bloat. The problem with trying to cut these positions is that positions typically get cut by seniority, so newer positions (created typically to address new problems) are cut first, and old positions that may be obsolete, but inhabited by someone with seniority, are cut last, if at all.
Targeted cuts to our civilian and contractor force should be accompanied by technological solutions. There are hordes of people that simply build PowerPoint slides, rehash data in different formats and in general make busy work. Existing technology today can replace them, but the military lacks the spinal cord to cut these people and embrace technology. Part of that is poor infrastructure (see the recent post about Fixing Our Computers), and part is a corps of senior military leaders that are unable to embrace new technology.
Which brings me to the third point: trimming military senior leaders. We now have almost 1,000 flag and general officers, which is not the most we’ve had, but the percentage has increased over the years, while the level of responsibility and actual decision making has decreased. Worse still, our selection process for flag officers has remained relatively static over the years, so we continue to pick officers that are often stuck in the past. Keep in mind that forward-thinking officers like Hyman Rickover relied on political connections to circumvent the selection system, and our current system very rarely produces warfighters like James Mattis anymore. Not only do these ranks need to be trimmed, but its time that we begin placing forward-thinking civilians on the selection boards to ensure we’re picking officers that can fight in the increasingly complicated environment we find ourselves in.
The last point that any Republican administration needs to address is Acquisition Reform. We continue to pay astronomical costs for basic equipment. We’re not talking about hypersonic research, but basic things like computer networks, paper, and basic services. Congress has been terrible at addressing this because it benefits their individual districts, but there is no reason companies cannot make money while delivering valuable goods at a market price to the military.
Without addressing these core issues, trimming the Pentagon’s budget will result in more non-change, and worse, will affect the youngest and smallest programs that might be more focused on winning tomorrow’s wars then existing programs.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.