Will Defense Department Cuts Doom Our Air Superiority?

Today’s must read comes from Bruce McQuain at The Washington Examiner (make sure to also check out Bruce’s posts at Q&O, a blog I have long read)

“There has not been a single soldier or Marine who lost his life in combat due to a threat from the air in over 56 years.”

Let that statement sink in for a minute. The reason we’ve not lost a single soldier or Marine to enemy air is we’ve maintained such a dominant edge in both technology, ability and numbers that no enemy has been able to challenge our dominance of the air over any battlefield on which we’ve fought since Korea.

The problem, as Bruce points out, is that cuts in the Department of Defense could doom our air superiority. I won’t steal his thunder, you need to read the whole article, but, suffice to say, it looks like the F-22 program will be limited to 187, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could be doomed. Bruce ends this way

While it is certain cutbacks in defense spending are necessary, they must not jeopardize our military’s survival or our national security. 5th generation air superiority and strike fighters are critical to both.

The problem with Washington is that they mostly look to cut the wrong way. Instead of looking to cut waste, trim fat, spend wisely, make the money go further, like any responsible company, or family, would do, they simply look to cut programs. I’ve long discussed this problem, even going back to graduate school. Take the case of appropriations.

How do appropriations tend to work in government? Say you have an agency, we’ll call them the Department of Waste. Last year, they received $1.8 billion, and they spent it all. This year, they received $2 billion. For next year, they want $2.2B. In government, if you don’t spend all your money, you will not get more next year, and the DoW really wants to keep up with their competition, the Department of Urban Management of Bunnies. So, they really didn’t need $2B, and, in order to show they need more, they piss $100 million away to hit the $2B mark. Furthermore, they overspend on, well, almost everything. It’s Someone Else’s money, so, why should they worry? The government will get more.

Then they ask for $2.4B. The People In Charge say “well, you’ve been good little boys and girls, and spent your $2B, so, we’ll give you $2.2B.” Instead of being incented to be frugal with the money, they are rewarded for spending like drunks after a bank heist. This is how you end up with $500 hammers (rather an urban myth, but, they sure aren’t spending $50 down at Sears for a hammer with a lifetime warranty) and $600 toilet seats, among other waste, along with surplus. That’s a low level version of appropriations. If it was changed to appropriating what was actually needed, getting agencies to spend wisely, incenting them to save where possible, and having a mechanism for over-budget when needed, you could cut hundreds of billions from the budget.

Then you have contracting. Let’s say you wanted to added a deck out back. The company you contract with says it will take 5 days and cost $4,000. And that is in the contract. Come day 4, they tell you it will take 3 more days, even though it only rained one day, and will cost an extra $1,000. Now, would you pay up? Or, would you tell the company they “can kiss you a**, they’re not getting another dime, and they have one extra day, otherwise, you’ll see them in court”? I’m betting on the second.

But that is not what government does, because it is Someone Else’s money. They contract out to Company X for so much money in so much time. And then the contractor has “cost overruns” (guess who pays for that? Hint: not the company) and adds a lot of time on to the project. It might have rained, say, 20 days, but, they tell you it will take 4 more months. Even more lost “money from time.” (Yes, you saw this in the movie Dave, and, it makes sense.”) Instead, you do it like building a house: you don’t pay up for cost overruns. That is the contractors problem. You penalize for being late, and can reward for coming in early (as long as the quality is there.)

There are many other ways to do way more with less. If government would be sensible, there would be no need to worry about the loss of our ability to be utterly dominant when we have to project power/defend our nation. And there would be more money for other programs, making both left and right happy. To end up, remember this gem from Milton Friedman:

“There are four ways in which you can spend money.  You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else.  For example, I buy a birthday present for someone.  Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.  Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself.  And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch!  Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else.  And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get.  And that’s government.

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12 Responses to “Will Defense Department Cuts Doom Our Air Superiority?”

  1. david7134 says:

    My son is interested in the military, so we have some insight into the culture. Did you know that everytime they change the big cheese that he designs and obtains uniforms for everyone. Imigine the cost. Now the uniform is most definitely not going to put men in harms way. There are other traditions that we are getting into and I know many officers that have given insight into enoromus wast. As a doc, we used to head over to the pharmacy at the end of the fiscal year due to the fact they would be throwing away sunglasses an just about anyting else usfull so they could order more to replace them. This is some strange budget thing. Another aspect of medical care in the military. They would be better off getting rid of it. Yes, they could eliminate the care via the VA and what is offered on the base and contract to private groups. They would save money and markedly improve the care. But then Obama wants everybody to have the crap the military gets.

  2. Kevin says:

    You went to grad school? If you don’t mind my asking, what did you study?

  3. Kevin says:

    This reminds me of when I was a teacher. We would receive federal funds every year. If we didn’t spend all of the money, we would lose that money in the next budget year. Also, failing schools are rewarded with more money, while schools that succeed do not benefit from the extra incentives.

    Money is being wasted everywhere. It is why we spend so much money on education and don’t see any returns in student learning. Schooling is just one big, fat, pot of money that our taxes goes into. No one complains about the cost of education because it is taboo, but the fact is, the money is not being spent well.

  4. Good points, David. Just imagine what the VA could do if they used the money wisely, how much better the care would be.

    I was in the Public Administration program at ECU, Kevin. I did not get my degree. I have about 18 hours of credit, but, I decided I wanted to get out in the real world and make some money. The degree required 45 hours, 3 of which were professional paper, and 3 internship, which would have taken 2 full semesters. They didn’t want people taking more than two classes per semester, for a total of 6 credits, so, it would have taken a long time to get the degree. I wanted good money instead.

    And exactly right, Kevin: the money is being wasted. Think how much better education could be if it was spent wisely. Instead of focusing on tenure, No Child Left Behind, what schools look like, etc, they should start first with how the money is actually being spent.

  5. gitarcarver says:

    Did you know that everytime they change the big cheese that he designs and obtains uniforms for everyone.

    I am not sure to what you are referring.

    Several of the services have gone through new uniforms, but that was after Desert Storm. The new uniforms breath better, have better camo, and are lighter. This was not done on a whim, but rather done to make soldiers better and more comfortable.

    The only strange change in uniform of which I am aware is the Army going to berets instead of the old caps.

    The rest are not changes, they are upgrades.

    Yes, they could eliminate the care via the VA and what is offered on the base and contract to private groups.

    Maybe. Many bases did close their hospitals as part of RIF’s in the past. There are numbers that suggest that when a base population goes below a certain point, it is more economical to go to a private provider. Above a certain level, the numbers favor an on base hospital. One reason for this is the salary costs.

    You are absolutely correct in the waste in the system. This is true in all government. The end of a fiscal year is always a free for all as departments look to spend all of their budgeted money in order to maintain and increase budgets for the following years.

  6. david7134 says:

    GC,
    Everytime there is a new head of the Joint Chiefs, there is a uniform change. It might be suttle, but the fact is that new uniforms are issued to everyone.

    As to the medical cost via the military, much is done to increase this cost. In the 70’s they would keep people in the hospital for weeks at a time. Most of the patients were essentially well and ready for discharge in a few days. Yet they would keep the bed occupied for maybe a month in order to make it look like the beds were occupied. I don’t know if they have changed this, but I can assure you that the waste in the system is amazing. Also, the patients are not treated with first class care and there is often little concern as to their well-being.

  7. gitarcarver says:

    It might be suttle, but the fact is that new uniforms are issued to everyone.

    An Air Force Base is within spitting distance of me and when I was there today, no one had a clue as to what you are talking about. (This was for Air Force and Army units.)

    I spoke with a friend who retired from the Army who has no idea what you are talking about.

    Another friend on another list who is in the Army has no idea what you are talking about.

    Secondly, just so you know, they wouldn’t issue new uniforms to “everyone” as officers are responsible for the purchase of their uniforms after initially obtaining the rank.

    As to the medical cost via the military,…..

    I agree with your bed proposition. It was a common practice back in the day in most of the hospitals I know of. Empty beds do not bring in money to the hospital.

    The quality of care in VA hospitals has increased dramatically. It still has a long way to go, but for the most part, given the depth and breadth of the services, it isn’t bad.

    I have a neighbor who is elderly and retired from the Army who swears that 10 years ago the VA was one of the worst places on earth. Today, he believes that the care and services rival any private doctor.

    That is simply anecdotal, but my point is that the VA has made strides and hopefully will continue to do so.

  8. Kevin says:

    Teach, you were probably wise to quit. I have a Masters degree and it had in no way allowed me to make additional money, or even get a better job. In fact, it has worked against me more often than not, and I have had to leave it off certain resumes at the risk of being overqualified. I didn’t have to pay for the schooling as I was a TA, so I don’t regret it, but I feel sorry for all the other students that think a Masters will help your career. I guess it depends on the field though.

    In the end, I have to chalk my time in a Masters program up to additional education, and the time spent in research methods. But that didn’t really require a degree to learn. Many of my friends that were in the program now work at Enterprise, Geico, and other insurance type businesses. Thing is, you don’t even need a Bachelor’s for those jobs.

    The 6 credits max per session is beyond strange to me. This is a prime example of waste. They obviously have a hidden policy of keeping students in the program as long as possible. I went to The University of Arizona and they actually kick you out if you don’t get your degree in 4 years. It sounds like it would take a minimum of 3 – 4 years to get your degree. That is on the level with doctoral program timelines. That is unfortunate.

  9. david7134 says:

    GC,
    An officer across the street confirmed my observation about the uniforms. Plus, my son is a nut on uniforms. He has done his research and I can assure you that the concept exist. Who said anything about officers? That is a seperate class.

    As to the hostipals, wrong. I have had to defined several VA doctors in Federal court and can assure you that the quality of care has not changed in decades. It only looks somewhat better, possibly as the quality of private care is going down the tube as fast a possible. Also, I was an attending on the wards at VA 3 years ago and found little change from when I was a resident 40 years ago.

  10. gitarcarver says:

    An officer across the street confirmed my observation about the uniforms.

    Well, on the base here no one knows anything about it. That would be 2 of the 5 military units that don’t know what you are talking about.

    Who said anything about officers?

    You did.

    Here’s your comment: “Did you know that everytime they change the big cheese that he designs and obtains uniforms for everyone.

    Notice the word “everyone.”

    As to the hostipals, wrong.

    And all I am saying is that your anecdotal evidence is different than mine.

  11. david7134 says:

    GC,
    Exactly what is the point of your comments. Are you defending the military and their expenses? If so, you have a considerable amount to defend. As to a few people at the base not being aware of an obscure tradition? Come on, even you can see the logic in that. If you are hanging on to every word in a comment, then you might be in line as the next to pull a Tuscon.

  12. Frisbee says:

    I was sitting on twitter trying to find something to cure my boredom – and KABOOM – someone I follow tweeted this post. Now, I am not quite as bored. Thanks for posting good material. – Frisbee

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