Kill Defense Pork

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Republicans and Democrats alike claim to support fiscal responsibility,but you wouldn't know it from the defense budget. The House-Senate ConferenceCommittee has approved $288.8 billion in budget authority for next year --$8.3 billion more than requested by the Clinton administration, whose ownproposal was larded with pork.

The Pentagon and its allies have been arguing that the military isstarved for funds. Yet the defense budget, adjusted for inflation, remains at thelevel of 1980, when there was a Cold War, Soviet Union, and Warsaw Pact. Congresshas only repealed the Reagan military build-up.

Personnel retention and service readiness have been suffering, but notdue to inadequate spending. The problem is the administration's promiscuousdeployment of U.S. forces for frivolous purposes to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo,and more.

Anyway, there is more than enough money available to maintain servicequality. Unfortunately, the funds are being squandered to subsidizebusinessmen and reelect congressmen.

As William Hartung of the World Policy Institute points out in a newstudy for the Cato Institute, the federal government spent $7.9 billion in 1996(the most recent year for which all figures are available) to promote $12billion worth of global arms sales. Federal R&D subsidies underwrite not onlyPentagon weapons purchases but also profitable foreign exports. Moreover, a sizableshare of the $120 billion in procurement is wasted on arms that even the Pentagondoesn't want.

Export subsidies are one special interest Pentagon boondoggle. Throughthe Foreign Military Financing Program the Defense Department has given grantsand loans to Albania, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Egypt, Estonia, Greece, Israel,Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and numerous othernations to buy U.S. weapons. There are also loan guarantees from the Defense ExportLoan Guarantee Fund; the Foreign Military Sales program has provided loans (manyof which have been written off) and grants for the purchase of Americanweapons.

Between 1990 and 1995 the Pentagon dumped, as gifts or at deep discounts,weapons that originally cost $8.7 billion. The beneficiaries of thislargess included Australia, one of Asia's wealthiest countries (Canberra paid about10 cents on the dollar). Complained the Federation of American Scientists,"the services appear to be giving away still useful equipment to justifyprocurement of new weaponry."

Washington offers a variety of other subsidies for weapons exporters:special corporate tax breaks, Economic Support Funds to foreign buyers, salespromotion by the Commerce, Defense, and State departments, and government-fundedequipment, factories, and research and development. The Pentagon has evenprovided as much as $1.8 billion to government officials who have tried tohide the total cost to underwrite corporate mergers among arms-makers.

Equally expensive is the pork that permeates weapons procurement. ThePentagon buys about $120 billion in goods and services every year, creatingan enormous honey pot for legislators and interest groups.

According to Hartung, Congress added $30 billion to Pentagon requestsover the last four years, "mostly for big-ticket weapons systems built in thedistricts or states of congressional leaders or members of key committees."Primarily self-proclaimed fiscal conservative Republican members, it shouldbe noted.

While overall procurement spending fell between 1986 and 1996, ninestates increased the amount they collected in Pentagon contracts. These states,such as South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia are represented byparticularly influential legislators.

In announcing the congressional conference committee's agreement on$288.8 billion in budget authority for fiscal year 2000, House Armed ServicesCommittee Chairman Floyd Spence explained: "Despite our best efforts, however, we areonly managing the growing risks to our national security, not eliminating them.Absent a long-term, sustained commitment to revitalizing America's armedforces, we will continue to run the inevitable risks that come from asking ourtroops to do more with less."

Instead of spending more, Washington should ask its troops to do less.The United States need not defend prosperous and populous allies. It need nottry to put Humpty-Dumpty nations back together. Then the Pentagon could spend less-- far less.

Moreover, Congress should spend military dollars more efficiently. Allpork wastes taxpayer funds. Pentagon pork also weakens America's defense. Byexercising a little more fiscal responsibility Congress could end up savingthe lives of U.S. servicemen and women.