Military Opulence and the Betrayal of Taxpayer Trust
Do I really need a $600 chair? I’m a taxpayer and I cannot help but wonder. A basic folding metal chair from Walmart at $19 would do the trick; the deluxe is a bargain at $24. As I consider my chair, the vultures circle—ISIS, Russia, China, and Iran— to pick bits of flesh from the rotting corpse of the American military. We need more money. Now. $600 billion is just not enough.
An existential threat exists, but it’s the Trojan horse of military waste driven by cultural excess, general incompetence, and poor accountability. My $600 chair might just be the biggest threat of all.
God establishes government for a specific reason, to bear the sword against evil. (Romans 13:1-4) All other matters are ancillary. He calls men to submit to the government and to pay their taxes. (Romans 13:7, 1 Peter 2:13,14) The unspoken trust is that the government ought to be good stewards of these taxes. They ought to use them wisely to accomplish the primary purpose.
A breach of this trust does not afford the right to refuse to pay taxes, no such caveat exists. However, our system affords us the opportunity to scrutinize and to ask questions and to work within the system to find and to fix the breach.
There is a great breach.
It looks a lot like a $600 chair.
You can tell a lot about a man’s walk with the Lord by a quick glance at his bank account. How we spend our money speaks volumes to our spiritual health. Rampant debt is a problem, indicating poor self-discipline and a penchant for instant gratification. The Bible tells us that, “the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7) Indebtedness is a form of bondage and having been consumed by rampant personal debt previously, I will attest to this truth.
Our representative government mirrors the individuals who constitute our society. Our government’s drift toward godless policies and practices should surprise no one. The number of citizens who actually practice their faith has been declining for decades. Our nation is a post-Christian nation and our government implements unbiblical policy on multiple fronts, including spending. Unfortunately, our governmental spending habits perfectly represent our personal spending habits. Why wouldn’t a nation of undisciplined self-gratifying consumers field a representative government of the same?
Shamefully, our military follows right along.
Annual military spending tops $600 billion accounting for 54% of all discretionary spending, the portion of the budget determined through the annual Congressional appropriations process. American military spending accounts for 37% of worldwide military spending and exceeds the budget of the next seven countries combined—China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan.
Yet, in spite of these enormous expenditures, our military has shrunk to pre-World War II levels. Readiness continues to decline. “We have the smallest and oldest Air Force in history,” Gen. Larry Spencer, USAF vice chief of staff, testified to the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee in 2015.
“We are not building surge capacity, we are not building a continuous response capability.” Gen. Dan Allyn echoed.
“Our long-term readiness continues its insidious decline,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran testified just this week. The 2016 Heritage Foundation annual assessment of American military power scored the Army as weak. The Navy, Air Force, and Marines scored slightly better as marginal. And this from a $600 billion budget greater than the next seven nation’s budgets combined! How can this be?
How can a military funded to a level greater than the GDP of 170 of the world’s 191 countries (Argentina ranks 21 in GDP at $541 billion) arrive at a state whereby less than 50% of its Air Force units are combat ready, where only 3 of its more than 50 Brigade Combat Teams are combat ready, and where the Navy is the smallest and least prepared it’s been in a century.
It’s simple: waste and poor accountability.
The military wastes oceans of taxpayer dollars, squandering them on frivolous things that have absolutely no bearing on the mission at hand. Few are held accountable. The system itself precludes accountability.
We’ll ignore for a moment a number of competing culprits. We’ll ignore inefficiencies in systems and processes that yield $857 million in excess parts and supplies across the DoD. We’ll ignore the cumbersome and antiquated acquisition process that sees the DoD dump $2.7 billion into the JLENS air defense balloon that still doesn’t work. We’ll ignore for a minute the fact that the most profitable thing a business can do is sell something to the government. I’ve personally witnessed a $20,000 charge to paint a single wall, a $20,000 hallway wallpaper job. In 2015, the Defense Logistics Agency overpaid $8.5 million for spare parts. Vendors are fleecing the government and in most cases, little is done.
As much as these issues make me want to vomit in my mouth, we’ll ignore this incompetence for the moment and focus on a far more dastardly aspect – the flippant expenditure of military dollars on opulence.
– The United States Air Force Academy recently spent $387,000 to upgrade the headquarters foyer with new carpet, wall covering, lighting, and mahogany panels.
– The U.S. military dropped $150 million in 2015 on private luxury villas in Kabul, Afghanistan instead of housing employees on nearby military bases for a fraction of the cost.
– The Army National Guard spent $49 million on pro-sports advertising in FY 2014.
– The DoD funds at least 137 bands consisting of nearly 6000 service members (nearly double an infantry brigade) costing taxpayers nearly $500 million annually replete with $11,000 flutes, $12,000 tubas and an $88,500 concert-grade Steinway grand piano.
Some personal observations of frivolity:
– On post fitness facilities costing tens of millions of dollars.
– Routine purchase of office furniture to replace functional office furniture costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
– A $600,000 Brigade headquarters remodeling.
Practically every office has a plasma television or two continuously tuned to CNN or Fox News. A typical plasma television costs at a minimum $600 and why wouldn’t everyone need a plasma television on their wall? Multiply this across the DoD and by my estimates, the order of magnitude for televisions alone is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
My prior base constructed a new Brigade Combat Team (BCT) complex. The headquarters building itself cost in excess of $20 million and looks more like something out of corporate America rather than a war-fighting headquarters. They recently tore down the last World War II era building on that same base. Granted, they weren’t pretty but these buildings lasted functionally for the better part of 70 years. Couldn’t we have built a modernized version of these for a fraction of the cost? Oh, and the new headquarters and associated barracks already require remodeling and extensive work to combat mold and other issues.
It’s cultural. We expect our military leaders to occupy lavish offices and there is no incentive for frugality. If I don’t get a plasma television everyone else still will and then I’ll be the only one without one. That’s it. I could probably buy two plasma televisions for my office and though I might receive a bit of ribbing, no one would seriously question it.
Our system rewards and incentivizes those who execute their budgets. Not executing your entire budget places next year’s budget at risk and if I can execute my entire budget, my headquarters may just reward me with more money. Why would I spend less when you’ll take money from me next year if I do?
The system penalize frugality. It is rigged against efficiency and stewardship. It is rife with corruption, excess, and mismanagement. This is why our military is falling apart at the seams. This is why our tanks sit idle in the motor pool and our airplanes don’t fly. But man, my $600 chair sure feels nice.
***These opinions are the personal views of the author and do not represent any sort of official capacity or positions.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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