Georgia and Military Spending

Jack Bernard

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

"During his first Cabinet meeting of the year, President Trump said it was ‘insane’ that the government watchdogs tasked with exposing waste, fraud and abuse in the Afghanistan war release their reports to the public.” -- Dan Lamothe, Washington Post, Jan. 4, 2019

Military spending is an important economic factor, especially in Georgia and the South. As your 7-29-19 column points out, military spending in Georgia has an annual impact of $28 billion annually, creating 150,000 jobs. 

If not for our vaunted military, I would not be free. Neither would the reader nor any other American. But we spend as much as the next ten major powers combined on our military. We also spend 4% of our gross national product, while most NATO nations spend around 1%.

As a fiscal conservative and former corporate exec,  the question that must be asked is: “what is the appropriate level of funding for defense?” The 7-29 article and similar pieces that appear elsewhere never ask this question, simply assuming that ever higher military spending is always needed.

President Trump's first budget asked for a $54 billion increase in defense spending funded by deep cuts to domestic programs. His next budget did much the same, with little real justification.

However,military spending has already doubled in the last 10 years to over $700 billion dollars annually.GOP conservatives, like Rep Belton who is quoted in your piece, have simply got to get over their long-time addiction to blindly increasing our military spending without any public oversight. All defense spending isn’t automatically good and all domestic spending bad. 

Belton says that we need the 9 Georgia bases because they are in rural “area(s) where poverty is already high.”  As the former Chairman of a rural Georgia County Commission, I can think of many other more cost-effective ways to employ people, starting with repairing our aging infrastructure (roads, bridges, and so on) and expanding healthcare services to the 11% of Georgians not covered by insurance. Estimates are that if Georgia simply expanded its Medicaid program, 90% funded by the Feds, it would create 50,000 jobs.

Although many Americans incorrectly use the terms interchangeably, there is a major difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Effective means accomplishing your goal or aim. Efficient means achieving that goal in a cost-effective manner.

Our military has certainly been shown to be effective in maintaining the goal of world order. We are without any doubt the strongest military power the earth has ever known.

But is our military spending efficient? Probably not, but due to frenzied name calling (“unpatriotic,” “un-American”), hardly any group wants to analyze inefficiencies. Certainly, few right-of-center think tanks want to even address the issue and objectively analyze defense spending with an emphasis on reallocation. Instead, virtually every military paper authored by them simply advocates for more and more resources. How is this being fiscally conservative? 

The exception is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) which in 2016 sent a letter to the Department of Defense and the Senate outlining ways to reallocate military funds:

-- Close “unnecessary facilities” in the U.S. There is an estimated 20% overcapacity in American bases. Closure hasn’t occurred solely due to politics.

-- Reduce the number of civilian defense employees. While the number of active-duty service personnel has gone down by 3% from 2001 to 2014, the number of civilians rose by 70,000 (a 10% increase). According to the GAO, the DOD refuses to gather the appropriate data to efficiently make these reductions, a situation Trump and Congress must address.

-- Cut bureaucracy. “De-layering” a bloated system of administration reduces the levels of review, making operations not only more efficient but more effective as well.

-- Review cost inflation. From FY98 to FY14, cost per active-duty soldier increased 76%. Research into cost-effectiveness, including compensation, must be done and cost-containment measures taken.

Our defense spending will rise every year unless we make a concerted effort to change. Is there no end to defense spending fiscal irresponsibility by supposed conservatives? 

As any Overspending Anonymous member knows, fiscal detox is very hard. Rep. Bolton and our other conservative Congressmen, for the good of our nation and its growing deficit, please try to come off your defense money fix. Patriotic Americans don’t insist that it be cold turkey. But at least cut back a bit so we know you're serious. Please, as Nancy Reagan said, just say “no.”