What made you most upset about the recent passing of our $1 trillion spending bill? It seems the only thing that can be agreed upon by everyone is that it’s a very bad idea. Interestingly enough, it seems to be hated equally from both sides of the political aisle, as well as the American public … you know, the people whose money is actually paying for the thing.
The part that struck me as the most odd and, quite frankly, made me upset was the defense appropriation. The lobbyists, I mean politicians (is there any difference at this point?), decided to give the Pentagon twice as much as they asked for in the defense budget.
Here’s why this makes me very upset.
Yes, I am a combat veteran, and yes I’m saying that giving the DOD too much money, especially more than the generals and staff who know better than the politicians what the military needs, is a very bad idea.
But why would I want to keep money from the Pentagon and leave our nation’s finest and bravest without the funds to buy hot meals, bullets, body armor and adequate housing?
I had the benefit of finishing my undergraduate business degree before entering the military, so I looked at many of the modus operandi during my service through that lens. The absolute waste ingrained into the system made me furious, and this is exactly why. For those of you without any governmental budgeting experience, here’s a quick tutorial; I hope it makes you as upset as it does me. My experience was on the military side, but many sources from other governmental agencies tell me it’s the same all around.
Let’s say I’m the commander of Unit X (sounds like a cool unit, doesn’t it?). My unit is given a budget of $1,000,000 this year to spend on things that I need. If I’m smart, I’ll even ask for more, because one of the bullet points on my military resume is how much money I commanded while in charge.
Throughout the course of the year I buy the things my unit needs: MRE’s, training, gear, etc. But, when the end of the fiscal year comes around, I find that I have $250,000 left over. In private industry I’d be commended for keeping overhead low, but in government that is considered a very bad thing.
You see, if I have money left over in a military unit, the budgeting overlords look at it as if I was given too much, and they’ll decrease my budget next year. So, what am I to do? I do an “end of the year buy.”
This is where most soldiers and units get their warehouse full of sunglasses, new boots, knives or things they don’t really need (or already have), but the logistical soldiers know can be purchased quickly and used to ensure that no money is left at the end of the year.
On top of this culture of waste and punishing commanders who spend efficiently, we have programs with massive waste like the F-35. The Pentagon is already planning to spend almost a trillion dollars on these fighters (purchasing 2,443 of them for $382 billion with an operation and maintenance estimate of $650 billion).
These are the same fighters, mind you, that Canada refused to buy because they “add no edge over other fighters” for their forecast of planned engagements.
It reminds me of a joke I once heard: An astronaut and cosmonaut are on the space station together. The astronaut is bragging about his pen, which NASA developed for $20 million and can write underwater, in zero gravity, upside down, right side up, and every which way. The cosmonaut listens intently, laughs, and says that Russia gave him something that can do all of the cool tricks his $20 million pen can – a pencil.
Our culture and education system do an abysmal job of teaching our children anything about money. It falls on us as parents to do everything we can to teach our kids fiscal responsibility, but when they see our politicians doing the exact opposite and spending their future away right in front of their eyes, what lesson do you think they are learning?