Embracing Real Security: An Alternative Look at the Federal Budget

By Kira Webster

Whether you lean towards conservatism or liberalism, everyone wants peace and
security and to be able to keep their families safe at all costs. In reality, it’s easy for us to use the term “at all costs” until we realize what those costs actually are. There are effective ways to budget our protection and promote peace, not just for us, but for the rest of the world.

The Pentagon’s budget accounts for about 54% of government spending and one of the most discussed areas is nuclear weapons. Over the next 30 years, the maintaining and building of nuclear weapons is estimated to be about $1 trillion, including $80 billion for a new low-range bomber, $90 billion for nuclear submarines, $11 billion to refurbish the B-61 nuclear warhead, and $30 billion for a new nuclear armed cruise missile. Also included are the costs to build new production facilities. One of the main factors for these estimated costs is that we still don’t have enough safe areas to contain nuclear waste. Remnants from the Manhattan Project are still poisoning North St. Louis inhabitants, and so far, no one knows how to clean the waste up. St. Louis is not the only polluted area suffering from past nuclear production–the U.S. has about 75,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste alone (not including low to medium-levels). Yucca Mountain in Nevada was chosen to safely deposit waste for the next 10,000 years; however, the project ran into many difficulties in the political and scientific realms, and nuclear waste levels have reached a point where Yucca cannot solely contain them. A second depository must be created, and as of right now, there are no budget plans for it.

It goes without saying that continuing the manufacture of nuclear weapons without any clean-up plans is enormously irresponsible. In the long run it doesn’t make us more safe, even if countries like North Korea do pose a potential threat. A global threat on that scale would require much more than U.S.-based weapons, and no small amount of international negotiations and diplomacy.

Two other prominent areas of spending under scrutiny are the Overseas Contingency
Operations and funding the F-35 Joint Striker. The OCO has been referred many times (by both parties) as a “government slush fund.” Originally intended to fund the “Global War on Terror” during the George W. Bush administration, it has turned into a spending account for projects to please certain voters and parties. This pork-barrel spending has been used for routine base construction, additional parking lots, or new dorms, when it should only be used in emergencies.

In 2015, under the Obama Administration, funding started to decrease from $93 billion (in 2013) to $85 billion due to pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in 2017, President Trump requested over $109 billion for US military operations against Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Congress also requested to increase OCO spending to $82.4 billion–a 41% increase over last year and far beyond what the Pentagon has determined is needed for current US wars. In order to fund the OCO, cuts have been made to other areas of federal funding such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, green energy, and wildlife management programs. The OCO has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats over the years, and surprisingly, President Trump chose Mick Mulvaney as his head of Office Management and Budget–someone who has been one of the largest criticizers of the OCO budget. He’s in a unique position where he could stop huge amounts of funding for the OCO, and he could be successful. In August of 2017, Mulvaney proposed putting a cap on the OCO, and eventually phasing it out to only $10 billion by 2022. However, on January 26, Trump’s Pentagon budget was approved for $716 billion, including more than $90 billion coming from the OCO. Combined with Trump’s tax plan, this part of the defense budget in particular will make it harder for the White House to produce a 10-year balanced budget plan.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the largest military aircraft development program, as well as the most expensive. Its purpose is to design and produce three versions of aircraft, and reduce detection by radar for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. All three versions of the aircraft are still under development and will not be operational for at least several years. Between 2007 and 2013, the Navy and the Air Force placed 150 orders for F-35’s, and anticipate purchasing about 2,300 more between 2014 and 2037, which the DoD has estimated to amount to $300 billion. This plan is a financial black hole since the aircraft is consistently full of performance problems, management problems, and cost problems. It has $80 billion in project cost overruns, and its waste is over 100 times the amount of taxpayer losses from the Solyndra solar energy project. Sen. John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, has been a critic of the F-35, calling it a “scandal and a tragedy.”

An alternative solution to the F-35 would be purchasing the most advanced aircrafts: the
Lockheed Martin F-16 and the Boeing F/A-18 for the Navy and Marine Corps. The
Congressional Budget Office’s estimates the option would save $37 billion from 2015 through 2023 if the F-16’s and F/A-18’s were purchased on the same schedule as the one planned for the F-35’s. As long as they were advanced enough, these alternative aircrafts would be able to meet any U.S. threat for the foreseeable future.

One growing, practical option to overspending on defense includes supporting what the Congressional Progressive Caucus calls The People’s Budget. This plan includes cost modifications across various sections of federal funding including healthcare, infrastructure, green energy, the tax system, elections, education, and sustainable defense. TPB focuses on reining in excessive CEO pay for defense contractors and reducing the proportion of private civilian contractor personnel. Investing in an effective mix of diplomacy and humanitarian assistance training will lead to more stabilization and financial security as well. Their defense strategy focuses on strengthening armed forces’ crisis responses, security, and deterrence in areas such as cyberwarfare, and nuclear proliferation. With this modernized, global security shift, we will be able to create a cost-effective military while still maintaining our safety.

TPB also highlights regularly auditing the Pentagon. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that the Pentagon loses tens of billions of dollars annually, while a 2015 study from the Defense Business Board recorded $125 billion of administrative waste. Audits could potentially save billions of dollars by implementing accountability, and ensuring zero fraud or waste.

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