Another Big Mess

Before we hear from the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), let’s listen to Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who asks and answers the question: “Should the U.S. spend billions more on the Navy? No”.

“The Budget Control Act of 2011 required automatic spending cuts unless Congress could agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan,” he reminds us. “When the law was passed, the conventional wisdom was that the automatic cuts in Pentagon spending would be unthinkable, and this would force the long-term budget deal. The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, and the cuts to Pentagon spending began in March 2013. It was a dumb idea to reduce the deficit with unemployment elevated, but given that government spending was going to be cut, the fact that this resulted in cutting the bloated pentagon was good.

“Now we hear whining and complaining from the Pentagon spending lobby – and especially the Navy, which is pushing for a new line of $ 14 billion super-carriers – that America’s national security will be compromised. Of course that depends on how you define ‘America’ and ‘national security.’ If we are talking about the actual security of American citizens and residents – well, a huge part of Pentagon spending is unrelated to that. No one has explained how the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq made us safer, and it cost the lives of more than 4,400 Americans and several hundred thousand Iraqis. It’s tough to see how the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has increased our security, or the drone killings of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries – all of which are creating new enemies every day.

“No, the Pentagon lobby’s real fear right now is that people will see that Pentagon cuts don’t endanger us in the least, and will want more. According to the polls, the public already wants much deeper cuts in Pentagon spending than do our pampered and Pentagon-contractor-financed politicians – who do not have to sacrifice their own sons and daughters for their imperial ambitions or suffer from the economic consequences.

“The sequester has been in effect since March, and even if it continues through all of next year, the base Pentagon budget will only return to the level of 2007 – excluding wars. It will still be more, in real, inflation-adjusted terms, than it was at the height of the Vietnamese War. The Navy plans to spend $ 2.2 billion this year on the Littoral Combat Ship, and wants more ballistic missile submarines for as much as $ 8 billion each. Would you really rather have these special gifts for Pentagon contractors than thousands of teachers, or Head Start preschool programs for thousands of children? And these Navy luxury items are small change compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars of Pentagon waste that is planned for the coming decade.

“The worst deal of all would be a ‘grand bargain’ – a long-term budget deal to avoid the cuts in Pentagon spending by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits instead. This is no bargain; it is more like ‘grand theft’ from our senior citizens: Their average Social Security check is about $ 1,100 a month and makes up most of their income.

“A smaller military will mean fewer wars and fewer lives destroyed, as our leaders will be forced to scale back their ambitions. We don’t need a bigger budget for the Navy or the military – we need a smaller empire, or better yet none at all.” –

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) gives us a clue on what goes on behind the scenes at the Pentagon in its recent article. “How a Highly Secret DoD Agency Does Business”

“In the words of the man in charge, the Air Force’s ‘Big Safari’ is a ‘secretive and shadowy organization that has been in existence for over 60 years.’ That man is Col. Edward Topps, and in a story on Vocativ last week, he said the agency works on some of the Air Force’s ‘most sensitive projects’ … all along the lines of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

“Vocativ provides more startling info on the more than 60-year-old, highly confidential project. Since 2005, the organization has given out $ 31 billion in contracts, 96% of which were awarded without competition. This is surprising, since Congress passed a 1984 law mandating competitive bidding, except in extreme cases.

“Vocativ writer Aram Roston hoped Topps would address this issue when they spoke.

‘During our brief phone conversation in September, Topps confirmed that his office shuns competitive bidding. “We have used the same contracting procedures for the past 61 years,” he added.

‘But everything Big Safari does, according to Topps, is within the confines of the law. There are legal exemptions, he told me, “that allow us to do things quick and secretively so that we can make sure that our enemies don’t find out about it.”

‘For years, Charles Tiefer, a Baltimore law professor, has worked on contracting issues with Congress. But when I told him about my conversation with the Colonel, he was surprised. Big Safari, he says, “sounds like a rogue agency. They think none of the laws apply to them.”

‘There is no group in government, Tiefer says, that has blanket exemptions from the law. They just have to engage in a bidding process in a secretive way. The exemptions, he says, even for national security reasons, are supposed to be made case by-case. “The head of this agency is a one-man wrecking crew,” he says, “for the federal system of competitive contracting.”

“The Project On Government Oversight supports full and open competition in government contracting. Unfortunately, Big Safari’s modus operandi seems to be one example of a well-established pattern. POGO reported earlier this year that a recent Government Accountability Office study found the Department of Defense’s competition rate has been steadily declining in recent years, from 53 percent in 2008 to 57 percent in 2012.” –

[How did we get ourselves into this mess, anyway?]