Will President Trump Tackle the Defense Waste Beast?


With the federal government’s debt at $22 trillion and rising, politicians of both major parties can no longer afford to avoid reducing wasteful spending. A serious plan to cut spending does not just mean reducing the welfare state. It also requires changing our foreign policy and cutting the waste, pork, and unnecessary expenditures in our “defense” budget — very little of which is actually spent defending the American people.

According to an analysis of the 2019 federal budget, military spending accounts for more than half of the $1.2 trillion discretionary federal budget. The U.S. spends more on its armed forces than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK and Japan combined. While Congress must make sure our military is able to protect the American people, that does not justify wasting trillions on a futile effort to “democratize” the world. It also does not justify turning a blind eye to wasteful spending that dulls our military’s efficiency.

But here is the good news: President Donald Trump appears ready to begin fulfilling his campaign promise to pursue a new course in foreign policy. Recently, the president made the decision to withdraw roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, thus tattering down America’s longest war. Additionally, he ordered the withdrawal of over 2,000 American soldiers from Syria (although he could backtrack on that promise under pressure from pro-war politicians and even some in his own Cabinet).

The administration shouldn’t stop there. In addition to bringing the troops home from unnecessary, unconstitutional and unwinnable conflicts, Congress and the president should eradicate wasteful government spending. For example, in 2018 the Department of Defense shelled out nearly $2.7 billion for 20 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. That’s more than a five-fold increase over the amount provided in 2017, all for a military program that is nearly 17 years behind schedule, with a price tag projected to be double the initial estimate and total lifetime operation and maintenance costs totaling approximately $1 trillion. No wonder, the late Senator John McCain — who no one ever mistook for a dove — decried the F-35 program as “both a scandal and a tragedy.”

The federal government also wastes millions of dollars contracting SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private aerospace company, during inopportune times. A holdover contractor from the Obama administration, SpaceX receives huge amounts of taxpayer money to supply cargo to the International Space Station. A NASA audit reported last year that SpaceX increased its prices on the government by 50-percent despite its launch services already being “notably higher” or “somewhat higher” priced than other vendors. Unless the government is more selective about signing SpaceX, NASA could pay an additional $400 million in the coming years for its delivery contracts, despite moving even less cargo.

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Fortuitously, it appears as though the Trump administration may already be waking up to the defense budget’s apparent inefficiencies. In the case of SpaceX, at least, the Air Force has expressed significant concern and uncertainty regarding the performance of the company’s reusable rockets. Perhaps for that reason, SpaceX was recently not offered a contract to continue to develop rockets for the Air Force.

Could the military’s elimination of inefficiencies, coupled with Trump’s continued attempts to shift foreign policy shift, foreshadow things to come in 2019? Could these actions be the nascent first steps toward adopting a new foreign policy that puts American taxpayers first? That would certainly be a resolution worth keeping.

Norm Singleton is president of Campaign for Liberty.

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