Wasteful Department of Defense Spending

There’s no question that the Department of Defense is an egregiously wasteful organization. Whether you’re looking at the big picture (like occupying a country for more than a decade for no good reason) or zooming in a bit (to local recruiting offices, individual projects, or even military advertising), there’s no shortage of waste to be found. In a country where 610,042 people are homeless [1], the outstanding student debt balance comes in at more than $1.2 trillion [2], more than 16 million children (22% of all children in the country) live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level [3], and millions of people can’t afford health insurance, surely there is no shortage of worthy causes for taxpayer dollars. However, the Department of Defense is seemingly unconcerned about education and child poverty – because it continues to burn taxpayer dollars in some of the most outlandish ways possible.

I was inspired to write this post after reading about how the Department of Defense managed to spend $43 million on building a gas station in Afghanistan. In case you’re wondering: No, they’re not simply that expensive. In fact, the project should have cost only (only?) $500,000. So, how did the project manage to cost 8,000% more? Well, the Pentagon doesn’t know. When John Sopko (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction // SIGAR) asked, he was told, “that the Office of the Secretary of Defense no longer possessed the “personnel expertise to address these questions” since the task force in charge of the spending on the gas station had been closed in March. Sopko said, “Frankly, I find it both shocking and incredible that DoD asserts that it no longer has any knowledge about TFBSO, an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago.”

Well, perhaps the gas station is quite useful in Afghanistan and, despite being 8,000% more expensive than it should have been, it’s doing a great service. Perhaps not. Afghanistan lacks the national and local infrastructure that would be needed to support vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. You could convert a normal car to run on it – at a cost of approximately $700 per vehicle. In a country where the average annual income per person is $690, it seems unlikely that any widespread conversions will be taking place. Did the Department of Defense conduct any sort of feasibility study before authorizing this project? Apparently not. So, who foots the bill for a useless $43 million gas station? Taxpayers, of course. Who holds the Pentagon accountable when they simply have no idea how the project came to be so expensive? No one, it seems.

I decided to do a bit of research and see what other wasteful Department of Defense spending I could find.

I will not be discussing the costs of war in general, nor will I be discussing the fact that the United States accounted for more than a third of total defense spending worldwide in 2014. I won’t even touch the fact that the United States spent more than $20 billion to provide air conditioning for temporary tents and housing in Iraq and Afghanistan. (NASA’s total budget is just $19 billion.)

The Defense Department paid millions of dollars to pro sports teams to stage patriotic and “heartwarming” tributes at games, according to a congressional report. [5] $6.8 million was spent on “paid patriotism” tributes since 2012. The Department of Defense is throwing money away to feign heartwarming, patriotic moments at sporting events — depressing on so many levels. What else could we do with $6.8 million? I’m sure that Philadelphia schools could think of a few things.

The United States spent $468 million on C-27As for the Afghan Air Force. They were sold to a construction company as scrap metal (at a rate of $0.06 per pound) for a total of $32,000. [6] SIGAR was not pleased about that incident either.

In the United States’s fight against ISIS, it can cost up to $500,000 to destroy a $30,000 pickup truck (and that figure doesn’t include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights before the strike is carried out). In a sick, ironic twist of fate, the United States spends copious amounts of money on destroying materiel that ISIS captured from Iraqi forces — materiel that was originally provided by the United States. In other words, we’re spending money to destroy equipment we purchased.

How many military bases does the United States have around the world? No one really knows. According to a Department of Defense Base Structure Report, the U.S. maintains bases in at least 74 countries and has troops virtually all over the world. However, according to Quartz, “The data released by the Department of Defense is incomplete, and inconsistencies are found within documents.” [8] Personally, I cannot fathom the necessity of having military installations in at least 74 countries.

The United States spent another $432 million on planes that were never used. The Air Force requested to stop production of C-27J aircraft — and despite Congress being aware of this request, it continued to fund C-27J production in the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. [9] The U.S. Army also put 3.5 years and approximately $300 million into the “Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle” (a blimp the size of a football field). When the project became overwhelmed by errors and started exceeding its budget, the Army sold it back to the contractor. [9]

I’d also like to give some attention to the military’s advertising expenditures. In FY 2012, the U.S. military’s budget for advertising (on TV, radio, print, web, mail campaigns, pamphlets, and movie theaters) was approximately $667 million. [10] Phenomenal. I also looked into how much the military “invested” in sports sponsorships. According to one source, the military spent between $80 million and $100 million in each of the past two years on sports sponsorships, including mixed martial arts and fishing. [11] One sentence from the article really jumped out at me: “NASCAR and its drivers are publicly fighting to preserve the $21 million relationship between the National Guard and Dale Earnhardt Jr.” (Of course they are.) Well, you might be asking yourself, “Does that money result in new recruits?” The leagues said sports sponsorships are the “most efficient tool” in the military’s entire arsenal for reaching potential recruits. (Of course they did.) According to USA Today, “The National Guard spent $26.5 million to sponsor NASCAR racing in 2012 to bolster its marketing and recruitment but failed to sign up a single new soldier to its ranks, according to data provided to USA TODAY.” [12] Take from that what you will.

These are just a few of the innumerable examples that are out there. When the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 49,933 veterans are homeless on any given night, [13] perhaps the Department of Defense should reevaluate some of its priorities.

1. The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress
2. The high economic and social costs of student loan debt
3. Child Poverty | National Center for Children in Poverty
4. Pentagon Spends $43M On Gas Station In Afghanistan: Project Should Have Cost Department Of Defense $500K
5. ‘Paid patriotism’ at NFL games blasted in Senate report
6. From Solution to Scrapheap: The Afghan AF’s C-27A Transports
7. Destroying a $30,000 Islamic State Pickup Truck Can Cost Half a Million Dollars
8. These are all the countries where the US has a military presence
9. 20 Ridiculous Ways the Government Wasted Your Money in 2013
10. War and Peace in 30 Seconds: How Much Does the Military Spend on Ads?
11. NFL, NBA and NASCAR fight for federal dollars
12. National Guard’s NASCAR deal leads to virtually no recruits
13. FAQs About Homeless Veterans

2 thoughts on “Wasteful Department of Defense Spending

  1. This is outrageous and I am ashamed to call myself an American citizen . This is a blatant disrespect of the American soldier, and to the American taxpayer. Be advised, that we are cleaning house .

  2. Thanks for taking the time to post this.
    They have more money than they know what to do with while the rest of us have to watch every penny.

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