25 November 2013

The Business of Doing Harm: Defense Spending Accountability

The next time you hear a politician talk about 'accountability' and how social programs encourage laziness ask them what we should do about the defense budget. Defense spending is (unfortunately) a great example of what happens when you give someone a virtually unlimited amount of money and don't ask how it gets spent.

The obvious difference between social welfare and defense spending (aside from how much more money gets spent on defense, like 10-100x more)  is that in defense spending THEY work for YOU, so giving you that information is part of their job. Or, it is supposed to be. The Pentagon cannot even get their own employees to do the most basic of jobs: tell me where the money went. They cannot do that in part because it's just so much fucking money; they literally cannot keep track of it all. Which is amazing, if you think about it.

As a result we don't even know how wasteful it is. This is a national embarrassment, and everyone involved should be ashamed, and then they should get fired, and someone that can do the job should be brought in. That means thousands of people would get kicked off the government payroll. That will never happen, which is why this problem is intractable:

In its investigation, Reuters has found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.
Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.

15 years, $8.5 trillion, and we don't have a balance sheet that shows where it went. None is forthcoming. Social welfare is not the problem. Unfettered defense spending is the problem.

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