Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Letter From America (About Corruption in the Pentagon)

The Pentagon: Part Of A Broken System

Rod Dreher
The American Conservative

Frontpage / Shutterstock

Whenever I hear a politician say he’s going to save money by tackling “waste, fraud, and abuse,” I think, “yeah, whatever,” assuming that he’s avoiding hard choices. But here is an example of spectacular waste, one that I hope Trump will lay into hard:
The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.  Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

But some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.

So the plan was killed. The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website.

The Pentagon wanted to save money, allegedly. This report found great ways to save a gob of it. So the Pentagon killed it, because they were afraid that people would assume that they were wasting money. Which they are.  Why doesn’t Congress want to know how much money is being wasted by the military-industrial complex? From the story:
Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine general and former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers block even modest attempts to downsize the Pentagon’s workforce because they do not want to lose jobs in their districts.  Without backing from Congress, “you can’t even get rid of the guy serving butter in the chow hall in a local district, much less tens of thousands of jobs,” he said.

Read the whole thing. Notice how senior bureaucrats within the Pentagon worked to shoot it down. Note also that for that $125 billion in mere waste and inefficiency at the Pentagon, you could run HHS, the EPA, and the Justice Department for a year. The entire 2017 budget for Veterans Affairs is $70 billion. But heaven forbid that anybody ask the Pentagon pencil-pushers to tighten their belts.

Reading that report, I thought of Bret Stephens’ great column in the Wall Street Journal today. Stephens says that the huge political changes going on around the world have less to do with globalism and more to do with people being fed up with injustice. He writes:
In other words, the “system,” with its high-toned rationale and its high-handed maneuvers, struck millions of people as unaccountable and unjust. It might have been a good thing that the sky didn’t fall on everybody [in the financial crash of 2008], but shouldn’t it at least have fallen on somebody? Bernie Sanders got remarkably close to winning the Democratic nomination by calling Wall Street a fraud and demanding prosecutions. Hillary Clinton lost the White House by so perfectly typifying the system that supposedly worked so well. Donald Trump is what he is, and readers know what I think of that. But Mrs. Clinton’s unforgivable sin was her outsized—and unearned—sense of entitlement.

Look again at this year’s other big political surprises.

Colombians rejected the peace deal because they would not abide having terrorists lightly let off for their crimes. Filipinos elected Rodrigo Duterte because they wanted to exact moral justice against drug dealers, never mind the finer details of legal justice. Britons disregarded dire warnings about the consequences of leaving the EU because the powers of Brussels violated their sense of democratic sovereignty. Italians told Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to shove off because they weren’t sympathetic to plans they see as having been made in Berlin for the benefit of Germans.

The populist wave now cresting across much of the world is sometimes described as a revolt against globalization: immigrants failing to assimilate the values of their hosts, poorer countries drawing jobs from richer ones, and so on. But the root complaint is not about economics. It’s about justice. Why does the banker get the bailout while the merchant goes bankrupt? Why does the illegal immigrant get to jump the citizenship queue? What right does a foreign judge have to tell us what punishments our criminals deserve? Why do our soldiers risk their lives for the defense of wealthy allies?

Those of us who believe in the liberal international order (now derisively called “globalism”) ought to think about this. There are powerful academic arguments to be made for the superiority of free trade over mercantilism, or of Pax Americana over America First. But liberalism’s champions will continue to lose the argument until we learn to make our case not in the language of what works, but of what’s right.

A system that allows a bloated Pentagon bureaucracy to spend $125 million on things it doesn’t need, and suppress a report that suggests ways to cut that waste — in what sense does such a system work?

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