The real pork

Americans may not be inclined to let our defense budget continue to skyrocket if they were aware of waste.

There are two things the Army does really, really well. The first, our assigned task, is kicking the shit out of the enemy; weâÄôre really good at that. The other thing we do almost equally well: waste taxpayersâÄô money. The Army is a big, wasteful, bureaucratic monster. If you want an accurate illustration of the Army, donâÄôt look to the ridiculous commercials or sensationalized Hollywood movies, open the newspaper to the funny pages and read âÄúBeetle BaileyâÄú âÄî itâÄôs a much more honest portrayal. Though I never served in any other branch, they all follow the same bureaucratic model, and I think itâÄôs safe to assume that other branches are equally wasteful, just on a smaller scale. In trying economic times such as these, when nearly all American institutions are being forced to deal with massive budget restraints (the University of Minnesota, for example) and the collective American individual is tightening their belt, so too should our governmentâÄôs largest bureaucracies (i.e. our military branches). Yet our defense budget continues to increase âÄî a $35 billion increase in 2009 and tens of billions projected increase in 2010 âÄî and our military, for some reason, is exempt from the same fiscal prudence. ItâÄôs a curious irony; large inefficient government receives so much criticism from fiscal conservatives, yet their even larger, doubly inefficient cousin, the military, hardly ever receives the same negative appraisal. While it enjoys the same endless tax dollars as health and human services programs, it does not have to endure the same scrutiny as to where those tax dollars go. Last weekend, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, chairman of the financial services committee, inquired to his Republican colleagues on âÄúMeet The PressâÄù why our government continues to spend $22 billion on an outdated and unnecessary F-22 fighter jet program. This program was initiated during the Cold War with the objective of defeating the Soviets in a ground conflict. Being that the Cold War has been over for like, what, 20 years now, one would think the program would have been cut. But no, because it falls under the sprawling, mostly unaccountable umbrella of âÄúdefense spending,âÄù it enjoys immunity from common sense. The other side of the table didnâÄôt even bother to justify the question with a response. They know that the American people like their defense spending and that the military is the one branch of government where Americans donâÄôt really mind waste. Host David Gregory moved on to another question and the issue was gone. To my knowledge the proposal hasnâÄôt gotten any mainstream ink and weâÄôll just keep throwing money at a useless project. For a low-level Army grunt like myself, this is called âÄúfraud, waste and abuse.âÄù Our superiors instruct us to immediately report it up the chain-of-command. The Army is like a woman in this way; it says one thing and means another. For six of the 16 months I was in Iraq, I was a desk jockey, working in an office charged with tracking vehicle repairs and ordering parts. I personally wasted at least $50,000 ordering unnecessary or mistaken vehicle parts. When I approached my commander to tell him that the motor pool and my office was wasting enormous amounts of money, he looked at me like I was naïve, explaining that in the Army, such waste was just âÄúthe nature of the beast.âÄù Great leadership, sir. WhatâÄôs worse, and more irksome to the common foot soldier, is gross misuse of government property, i.e. the troops. My fellow Red Bulls who endured the same 22-month deployment know what IâÄôm talking about. Before deploying, roughly 5,000 of us spent six months âÄútrainingâÄù at the insufferable wasteland that is Camp Shelby, Miss. Out of the 180 days spent on that godforsaken post, less than 30 were actually spent training (a more than generous estimate). So for more than five months taxpayers paid to house, feed and bore 5,000 troops. Essentially, paying us to eat and workout, if you take just our salaries, it costs taxpayers more than $15 million a month. But telling of only internal cases of negligence and squander would not tell the whole story. Our militaryâÄôs contracts with civilian companies are equally egregious. In Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else our military is abroad, Kellogg Brown and Root, formally a subsidiary of Halliburton (yeah, the evil Cheney corporation) is serving our troops in various capacities. Anyone whoâÄôs been deployed and gathered a sense of our relationship with KBR will tell you that Uncle Sam is getting ripped off. For example, of the 155,000 troops serving in Iraq right now, most of them drop their laundry with KBR âÄî letâÄôs say 100,000 troops, a modest estimate. For all those troops and each bag of laundry, KBR charges our government $100. ThatâÄôs $100 to wash six pairs of socks, four pairs of underwear and a couple uniforms. Do the math on that and American taxpayers are spending $10 million a week and $520 million a year to wash our soldierâÄôs dirty laundry. I know in the age of trillion dollar bailouts half a billion dollars doesnâÄôt seem like much, but this is just one small example and inflated contract agreements define our governmentâÄôs relationship with KBR. Given that the buddies of the bigwigs at Haliburton formerly ran the country, this type of gross thievery of American taxpayers was understandable, even if it was deplorable. Now that thereâÄôs a new administration, thereâÄôs no reason for this to continue. I know that the examples offered here are parts of the supplementary war cost and not included in the defense budget. Yet they are representative of an organization thatâÄôs lost all sense of fiscal responsibility and in need of an overhaul. To my new commander-in-chief, I say itâÄôs time for our military to get in line with the rest of the country, and tighten its belt. Ross Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]