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It's Time to Turn the Pentagon Into a Triangle

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For all of the whining about the lack of money to meet the threats we face, what the Pentagon needs more than money is good sense. What they waste and lose each year could fund a war.

The Pentagon is shown in Virginia. (Shutterstock)

One of the few successes for taxpayers of the last seven years was the sequester initiated by the White House in 2011 to settle a budget battle. The sequester put statutory limits on the growth of domestic and defense spending. It was a huge success in holding down budget busting bills.

Since that day the White House has blamed that agreement on Congress and whined about the inability to increase spending on domestic programs.

Republicans whined about their inability to increase defense spending. Both sides were prepared to break the caps, but for different reasons.

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The passage of the $1.1 trillion spending bill in December was celebrated as a victory because they agreed to break the caps on both defense and domestic programs.

For all the whining from the military about its inability to meet our commitments under the spending caps, they refuse to see that they are just another bloated bureaucracy.

The Department of Defense is in need of serious reform. Its books have not been audited in two decades and will not be able to meet the statutory deadline of 2017 that Congress set in 2009.

The stories of sloppiness in purchasing and husbanding resources are legend. We have all heard of the $700 hammers and $1,200 toilet seats. That is just peanuts.

Between 1996 and 2011 $8.5 trillion dollars of appropriated funds could not be accounted for and the Pentagon plugged phony numbers into the accounting system for reporting purposes.

The Defense Logistic Agency buys parts replacements. A 2010 General Accountability Office report concluded that of $13 billion worth of parts in inventory $7 billion was not needed. In some cases they bought inventory that the military doesn’t use.

In addition to buying things that are not necessary, the different departments buy things that are unique. For example; the Navy buys radio equipment that cannot communicate with the Army.

In his 2000 book, “Lifting the Fog of War,” Adm. Bill Owens wrote of trying, as commander of the 6th Fleet, to communicate directly from a ship to Army units on shore. In six months of trying he never succeeded without going through a public landline.

Billions of dollars each year are contracted to private vendors with bid proposals that can only be satisfied by a limited number of companies and thus reducing competition and increasing costs.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discusses preparations for possible war with Iraq during a news conference at the Pentagon Tuesday, March. 11, 2003.  (AP Photo/Dennis Cook) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discusses preparations for possible war with Iraq during a news conference at the Pentagon Tuesday, March. 11, 2003. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

A friend of mine retired from a distinguished military career and went to work for a private business that contracted with the Pentagon.

He had some buddies that he had served with who were now in positions in the Pentagon where they were responsible for letting certain bids.

He offered his help in drafting the bids for them and cleverly wrote the specifications such that his company was the only company eligible to bid on them.

He saw absolutely wrong with it. That was the way things were done.

Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was both the youngest and oldest secretary to lead the Pentagon. When President George W. Bush appointed him for his second tour Rumsfeld knew what had to be done. He also knew where the resistance would come from.

Rumsfeld believed that many of the armaments in the weapons queue were remnants of a Cold War mentality and no longer worth the cost. They were heavy, slow and expensive.

He saw the future in fast, light and cheap that was made possible by new technology.

After being in office for just over one year Rumsfeld killed the $11 billion Crusader artillery program. The opposition from the military brass and their friends in Congress was fierce, but he succeeded.

When the Predator drone was first proposed to the military there was fierce opposition from the Air Force brass. It was considered a cheap little toy that had little power, limited weaponry and no pilot.

The initial funding for the Predator was provided by earmarks placed in the budget by members of the Armed Services Committee who had seen it.

It is perhaps the most valuable weapon in the inventory today. It is used for both information gathering and killing.

That brings us to the next needed reform; the reduction of flag rank officers who are so resistant to change.

We have more generals and admirals commanding the 1.4 million service members today than we had during World War II when 12 million were in uniform.

When World War II ended each admiral was responsible for 130 ships. Today it is about two ships per admiral.

Each of the generals and admirals has fine base housing as well as jets, vehicles and a cadre of aides to attend to their every need. Headquarters support costs increased from $459 million in 2007 to $1.06 billion in 2012.

The problem with the Department of Defense is not a shortage of funds. It is a shortage of common sense.

Two decades ago House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that we should turn the Pentagon into a triangle. He should have followed through on that threat.

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