With the sequester set to go into effect on March 1, Congress, the White House, and various government departments are all trying to play what’s left of their chess pieces to the best of their advantage. The White House, in order to get Congress to agree to at least some of its demands, is using what is called the Washington Monument maneuver, and agencies like the Pentagon are countering with the same maneuver.
The Washington Monument maneuver is simple: shut down something popular, necessary or valuable and point to it, saying, “See? This is what happens when you arbitrarily cut the budget like this.” The White House is pointing to cuts to housing, education and yes, defense when it discusses the sequester.
Another way to use the Washington Monument maneuver is to talk about how you will have to gut this wildly popular, valuable or necessary program or activity should your department’s budget be cut, because if you name something valuable enough, politicians will likely leave you alone rather than allow something valuable to disappear.
This maneuver is also sometimes called the gold watch, as the program or activity that “will” be cut can be considered the same way as a gold piece of jewelry.
According to a piece by Byron York, published in The Washington Examiner, the Pentagon is using the gold watch by responding to the possible sequester with information that they don’t have enough money to send the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman to the Persian Gulf, nor enough money to refuel the USS Abraham Lincoln.
York’s piece contains quotes from various military analysts and retired military, who are concerned that the Pentagon is doing this to add even more drama to the sequester fight. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters of the U.S. Army compared it to “Donald Trump claiming he can’t afford a cab.”
If Mr. Trump ever did make that claim, most people would probably just scoff in his general direction. However, some would wonder just where he could possibly have spent all that money of his that he’s suddenly too poor for mere cab fare. That’s the question we should be asking of the Department of Defense.
The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires government agencies to account for their finances and provide annual financial statements for review, similar to the way the private sector is required to account for their money. However, while there are some smaller agencies within the Department of Defense that can account for their finances just fine, and have received clean opinions from independent auditors, the DoD itself can’t come up with documents that show they know where all of their money is going.
They have the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), which also receives clean opinions from an independent auditing firm, however, in 2010, when the DoD’s Inspector General’s office examined the financials for themselves, they found that the statements didn’t comply with the standards set forth by the CFO, according to a Nov. 2012 article on Time.com by Nick Schwellenbach.
Schwellenbach’s article details some of the confusions and failures in the DoD IG’s office and DFAS itself, and illustrates why there are critics who believe that the DoD doesn’t necessarily have a clear idea where all its money is going. But beyond that, there are programs within the department that could be cut without significantly harming any necessary defense programs.
For instance, a report by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) shows that $6 billion per year pays for non-military research, including medical research that is often duplicated by other government agencies. Another $700 million goes to alternative energy research that is also duplicated by other agencies.
There’s a whopping $37 billion that pays for 300,000 people in civilian-type jobs, and for too many general officers. Overall, Sen. Coburn’s plan would save nearly $68 billion dollars for the department over ten years. That doesn’t sound like a lot, compared to the $550 billion that the department received in 2012, or when the sequester is supposed to save a total $500 billion on defense over that same time period. However, it’s a start, and perhaps it’s time that the entire federal government gets streamlined in a similar way. The DoD isn’t the only department running programs that are duplicated elsewhere. Sen. Coburn’s report mentions in the table of contents that duplication means taxpayers are paying more than twice what they need to for certain programs. Given the possibility that this is likely rampant across the entire government, it’s no wonder we borrow ever-increasing amounts of money.
In other words, the Pentagon needs to put away the gold watch for now and look at where they can make cuts without hurting national defense. The gold watch is for emergencies; it’s what you pull out and sell off when you’ve cut all the fat out of your budget and still can’t make ends meet. It’s not what you pull out first and wave in everyone’s face while crying, “Look what I’ll have to get rid of if you do this to me!”