Over the weekend, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey announced the Pentagon is working on a budget plan that starts to curb spending on military pay and benefits.
This is not the first time a military leader has noted the pressure rising personnel costs is putting on defense budgets. Former DOD Secretary Robert Gates warned that health care costs were “eating the Defense Department alive.” His successor, Leon Panetta, advised that the “growth in personnel costs is on an unsustainable course.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has also recently noted the dire need for entitlement reform.
With the national debate on health care reaching fever pitch in the wake of Obamacare’s shaky rollout, the Pentagon can hardly pretend its own outworn benefits structure will survive unreformed. However, tackling the political third rail of military benefits is a fool’s errand so long as defense budgets remain plump with wasteful industrial spending.
The politics behind cutting the defense budget are not new. But the bets are now being made with real money; Dempsey pointed out that unless compensation spending is addressed, resources for developing weapons systems and training will be insufficient.
The growing chorus on military entitlement reform comes as the department tries to find room for the discretionary cuts required by sequester. These budget constraints require appropriators to finally start placing real security priorities above political ones. As long as defense budgets are harboring wasteful spending, both the promises made to our troops and the nation's military readiness are at stake.
Lawmakers should start first with ending the practice of authorizing programs military officials have repeatedly renounced. One such program is the Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS, which the United States has spent billions developing though it never intends to actually buy and use the system.
Instead, the MEADS program is a giveaway to European “partners” who contracted with the United States to develop the missile program, but have provided far less financial backing for the project. With the United States’ involvement scheduled to draw to a close this year, taxpayers are still being soaked for public relations events staged as tests; earlier this month MEADS spent millions of dollars on a flight test designed to mask the program’s long history of technical shortcomings.