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The Pentagon's dollars and cents


Defense advocates and Pentagon officials keep telling us that if DoD gets one less cent as part of austerity budgets, America would be left defenseless against terrorists and communist would-be invaders who seek to destroy us. But their case might be a lot more compelling if they could show that DoD was wiser about spending the money it gets now. Your latest example comes from USA Today, where Tom Vanden Brook reports that the Pentagon has spent about $720 million since 2001 on late fees for shipping containers -- those ubiquitous metal boxes that haul just about everything to and from the war zone.

That kind of money would buy the Navy a littoral combat ship with change left over, or the Army about 42 Ground Combat Vehicles (at CAPE's $17 million per vehicle projection.) But instead of spending it on things it now says are priorities, the Defense Department paid it to shippers because it kept their containers past the agreed-upon limits. With an unlimited cashflow, why not, right? It makes you wonder how much more of this kind of thing takes place across the board.

Is defense spending just inherently, inevitably wasteful? Neither the services nor OSD seem to be able to take any real action to prevent stories like Vanden Brook's from happening again. Members of Congress stay oblivious until headlines like this appear, and then thunder on about how it's 'unacceptable,' and then a blue-ribbon panel convenes to take a hard look and get input from all the key stakeholders. Its result is something such as the Army Acquisition Report, which then disappears down the memory hole. The public shrugs -- stories about Pentagon waste are so common they don't even register.

Could budget cuts break this cycle -- force defense officials to actually get serious about being efficient by denying them the spending cushion they've been able to count on? What do you think could work?

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