- - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

President Donald Trump has promised numerous times to strengthen America’s military. Yet if he hopes to keep this vow, he must tackle a critical issue that’s often overlooked: wasteful spending at the Pentagon that endangers our national security and the men and women who wear the uniform.

The Trump administration should begin working with Congress on fiscally responsible reforms that will ensure the strength and sustainability of our armed forces. My organization, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), has identified several areas where we can cut waste and inefficiency while putting our military on a stronger footing, ready to face any challenge in the years ahead.

The first step is to audit the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest government agency with the largest discretionary budget. And yet, it is the only government agency that has never been audited. Taxpayers deserve more accountability from an agency with 2.8 million employees and an annual budget of $580 billion.

Years of reports about wasteful Pentagon spending make it clear that an audit is overdue. In one egregious example, the DoD spent nearly $150 million to provide security and private villas to a handful of employees in Afghanistan. Another report found that the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency was systematically overcharged for aircraft parts and spent over $7 billion on unneeded equipment.

In addition to an audit, Congress and President Trump can begin cutting waste by reversing the costly green-energy mandates put in place by the Obama administration. These include executive orders requiring the Pentagon to incorporate climate change programs and policies at every level of military operations.

These mandates unnecessarily inflate military expenses by adding new layers of bureaucracy and by forcing our armed forces to procure expensive “green” fuel and equipment. In 2015, for instance, the Pentagon spent $150 per gallon on jet fuel derived from algae — 64 times the price of conventional fuel. Green-energy mandates divert attention and resources away from the core mission of our military: keeping America safe.

Another urgent area for reform is the military’s health care system, which consumes a growing share of defense spending.

Spending on military health care increased 130 percent between 2000 and 2012 and now accounts for about 10 percent of the DoD’s base budget. Despite the increased spending, surveys show that service members and their families are frequently dissatisfied with their treatment and choice of medical providers.

Fortunately, there is already a proposal on the table that would improve care while getting spending under control. Congress should implement the health care recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which would give military family members and retirees access to a wider array of health care providers while lowering costs over time.

Finally, we must address our growing national debt, which increasingly jeopardizes the economic and military dominance of the United States. In the words of Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, “no nation in history has maintained its military power if it failed to keep its fiscal house in order.”

While our $19 trillion in debt was rarely mentioned during the campaign season, we can no longer afford to ignore it. If we continue to allow the debt to grow at its current pace, in just four years interest payments on the debt will outweigh all spending on national defense.

These budgetary pressures will eventually cripple our ability to fund a cutting-edge military force. To dig ourselves out of this hole, Congress and the administration must trim the bloated federal budget to a more responsible level.

Our military remains the finest on the planet, but years of profligate and wasteful spending have eaten away at its core competencies. The Trump administration should seize the opportunity to reverse course and ensure our armed forces have the resources they need to fulfil their mission — a promise he has made time and again. The enduring safety and prosperity of our country depend on it.

Mark Lucas is executive director of Concerned Veterans for America.

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