- - Thursday, January 31, 2013

If former Sen. Chuck Hagel becomes the next secretary of defense, he will have quite a job on his hands. One of the most pressing issues facing the Department of Defense is the scheduled sequestration. The impending sequestration is the fault of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and President Obama and the next secretary of defense need to identify smart spending cuts.

The good news is that there have been many ideas for cutting spending at the Pentagon that won’t threaten national defense.

In November 2012, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma released a report titled, “Department of Everything,” which outlined $68 billion in defense cuts that won’t affect national security. According to Mr. Coburn, there are five areas in the defense budget that “have little to do with national security where taxpayer dollars could be saved and deficits reduced without impacting our national security.” The areas he pointed out were nonmilitary research and development, education, alternative energy, grocery stores, and overhead, support and supply services. All told, these savings would total $68 billion.

Examples of wasteful spending in the department include taxpayer funds to develop savory snacks like beef jerky, research to “study fish to determine if ignorance can save democracy,” and a prize to find 10 red balloons that were placed around the country.

In addition to what Mr. Coburn has pointed out, there are three unnecessary programs: the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, and the Abrams tank upgrade. These should be cut immediately.

MEADS has rightly earned the moniker the “Missile to Nowhere.” According to a Dec. 4 Politico article, “Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin … feels strongly that the Medium Extended Air Defense System is a ‘waste of money.’” Because of the prohibitive cost ($2 billion over budget), schedule delays (10 years behind schedule) and the system’s poor performance, the U.S. Army has said it doesn’t want MEADS and that it would never use the missiles.

In addition to an informative report, Concerned Veterans for America has released a video that explains why “fighting for earmarks without regard for strategic needs,” like what the government is doing with the MEADS program, has got to end.

Another unnecessary and wasteful government project is the EELV program, which was supposed to make space launch vehicles more affordable and reliable. Unfortunately, EELV program budgets have quadrupled since the Pentagon allowed Boeing and Lockheed Martin to merge their launch businesses into a single monopoly provider, the United Launch Alliance, in 2006. Despite this historic cost increase, the United States Air Force announced Jan. 27, 2012, its intention to award another $19 billion sole source contract to United Launch Alliance.

Now, according to an article in Aviation Week on April 17 (last year’s Tax Day), “The Pentagon has declared that the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) project has exceeded its original projected per-unit cost by 58.4 percent, triggering a rigorous review under the Nunn-McCurdy program oversight law.”

The Air Force’s own fiscal 2013 budget documents show the gross unit cost for each United Launch Alliance booster is $420 million. This price tag is more than four times higher than every other rocket in the world.

Finally, the Abrams tank is a great example of just how hard the habit of earmarking is to break in Washington. Even though the sponsors didn’t identify themselves, news coverage by Michigan’s Daily Tribune shows they haven’t held back their praise of the program. “‘This is an important victory for Michigan and the nation,’ said U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, who led the fight in the House to maintain funding for the tank program. Advocates in Congress, including Levin and Rep. Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, urged the House Appropriations Committee to include additional funding to keep tank production going.”

Further research also confirms that the Pentagon does not want to fund the tank program. The same Daily Tribune article reported, “The Pentagon had proposed halting tank production for five years in 2013 as a cost-saving measure.” We have a $255 million earmark for a program that the Pentagon doesn’t want that members of Congress earmarked for funding but refuse to take credit for. It doesn’t look like things have really changed that much in Washington.

It is time to cut spending at the Department of Defense to ensure a future that is safe and fiscally sound.

David Williams is president of Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

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