7 Shocking Ways the Military Wastes Our Money
Hint: none of them have anything to do with national defense.
December 11, 2012
David Petraeus scandal has shined a light on the luxurious, subsidized
lifestyle of the U.S. military's top generals. But so far, what the
media has uncovered only scratches the surface of the abuses. Here are
eight absurd ways the military wastes our money--and none of them have
anything to do with national defense.1. A whole battalion of generals?
The titles “general” or “admiral” sound like they belong to pretty
exclusive posts, fit only for the best of the best. This flashy title
makes it pretty easy to say, "so what if a few of our military geniuses
get the royal treatment--particularly if they are the sole commanders of
the most powerful military in human history." The reality, however, is
that there nearly 1,000 generals and admirals in the U.S. armed forces, and each has an entourage that would make a Hollywood star jealous.According to 2010 Pentagon reports, there are 963 generals and admirals
in the U.S. armed forces. This number has ballooned by about 100
officers since 9/11 when fighting terror--and polishing the boots of
senior military personnel --became Washington’s number-one priority. (In
roughly that same time frame, starting in 1998, the Pentagon’s budget
also ballooned by more than 50 percent.)Jack Jacobs,
a retired U.S. army colonel and now a military analyst for MSNBC, says
the military needs only a third of that number. Many of these generals
are “spending time writing plans and defending plans with Congress, and
trying to get the money,” he explained. In other words, a large number
of these generals are essentially lobbyists for the Pentagon, but they
still receive large personal staffs and private jet rides for official
paper-pushing military matters.Dina Rasor, founder of Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, explains
that this “brass creep” is “fueled by the desire to increase
bureaucratic clout or prestige of a particular service, function or
region, rather than reflecting the scope and duties of the job itself.”It’s
sort of like how Starbucks titles each of its baristas a “partner” but
continues to pay them just over minimum wage (and a caramel macchiato
per shift).As Rasor writes,
“the three- and four-star ranks have increased twice as fast as one-
and two-star general and flag officers, three times as fast as the
increase in all officers and almost ten times as fast as the increase in
enlisted personnel. If you imagine it visually, the shape of U.S.
military personnel has shifted from looking like a pyramid to beginning
to look more like a skyscraper.”But the skyscraper
model doesn’t mean that the armed forces are democratizing. In fact,
just the opposite; they’re gaming the system to allow more and more
officers to deploy the full power of the U.S. military to aid their
personal lives--whether their actual work justifies it or not.2. The generals’ flotillas.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates appointed Arnold Punaro, a
retired major general in the Marines, to head an independent review of
the Pentagon’s budget. Here’s the caution he came up with: “We don’t want the Department of Defense to become a benefits agency that occasionally kills a terrorist.”So, just how good are these benefits? For the top brass, not bad at all. According to a Washington Post investigation,
each top commander has his own C-40 jet, complete with beds on board.
Many have chefs who deserve their own four-star restaurants. The
generals’ personal staff include drivers, security guards, secretaries,
and people to shine their shoes and iron their uniforms. When traveling,
they can be accompanied by police motorcades that stretch for blocks.
When entertaining, string quartets are available at a snap of the
fingers.A New York Times analysis showed that simply the staff provided to top generals and admirals can top $1 million--per general.
That’s not even including their own salaries--which are relatively
modest due to congressional legislation--and the free housing, which has been described as “palatial.” On Capitol Hill, these cadres of assistants are called the generals’ “flotillas.”In
Petraeus’ case, he didn’t want to give up the perks of being a
four-star general in the Army, even after he left the armed forces to be
director of the CIA. He apparently trained his assistants to pass him water bottles at timed intervals on his now-infamous 6-minute mile runs. He also liked “fresh, sliced pineapple” before going to bed.3. Scandals.
Despite the seemingly limitless perks of being a general, there is a
limit to the military’s (taxpayer-funded) generosity. That's led some
senior officers to engage in a little creative accounting. This summer
the (formerly) four-star general William “Kip” Ward was caught using military money
to pay for a Bermuda vacation and using military cars and drivers to
take his wife on shopping and spa excursions. He traveled with up to 13
staff members, even on non-work trips, billing the State Department for
their hotel and travel costs, as well as his family’s stays at luxury
hotels.In November, in the midst of the Petraeus
scandal, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demoted Ward to a three-star
lieutenant general and ordered him to pay back $82,000 of the taxpayers’
misused money. The debt shouldn’t be hard to repay; Ward will receive
an annual retirement salary of $208,802.Panetta may
have been tough--sort of--on now three-star general Ward, but he’s
displayed a complete refusal to reevaluate the bloated ranks of the
military generals. Unlike his predecessor, Robert Gates, who has come
out publicly against the increasing number of top-ranking officers and
tried to reduce their ranks, Panetta has so far refused
to review their numbers and has yet to fire a single general or admiral
for misconduct. He did, however, order an “ethics training” after the
Petraeus scandal.4. Warped sense of reality.
After the Petraeus scandal, the million-dollar question was: Did the
general who essentially built the world’s most invasive surveillance
apparatus really think he could get away with carrying on a secret affair without anyone knowing? Former Secretary of State Gates has floated
at least one theory at a press conference in Chicago: “There is
something about a sense of entitlement and having great power that skews
people’s judgement.”A handful of retired diplomats
and service members have come out in support of Gates’ thesis. Robert J.
Callahan, a retired diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to
Nicaragua, wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune explaining how the generals’ perks allow them to exist on a plain removed from ordinary people:“Those
with a star are military nobility, no doubt, and those with four are
royalty. Flying in luxurious private jets, surrounded by a phalanx of
fawning aides who do everything from preparing their meals to pressing
their uniform trousers, they are among America's most pampered
professionals. Their orders are executed without challenge, their word
is fiat. They live in a reality different from the rest of us."Frank Wuco, a retired U.S. Naval intelligence chief, agrees.
the senior guys and the flag officers, this is like the new royalty,”
he said on his weekly radio show. “We treat them like kings and princes.
These general officers in the military, at a certain point, become
untouchable... In many cases, they get their own airplanes, their own
helicopters. When they walk into a room, everybody comes to attention.
In the case of some of them, people are very afraid to speak up or to
disagree. Being separated from real life all the time in that way
probably leaves them vulnerable (to lapses in moral judgement)."Sounds
like a phenomenon that’s happening with another pampered sector of
society (hint: Wall Street). Given the epic 2008 financial collapse, do
we really want to set our security forces on a similar path of power,
deception and deep, crisis-creating delusion?5. Military golf. Of
course, generals and admirals aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy
some of perks of being in the U.S. armed forces. Although lower ranking
service members don’t get private jets and personal chefs, U.S.
taxpayers still spend billions of dollars a year to pay for luxuries
that are out of reach for the ordinary American.The Pentagon, for example, runs a staggering 234 golf courses around the world, at a cost that is undisclosed.
According to one retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, who also just happens to be the senior writer at Travel Golf, the very best military golf course in the U.S. is the Air Force Academy's Eisenhower Blue Course in Colorado Springs, CO.
“This stunning 7,000-plus yard layout shares the same foothills terrain
as does the legendary Broadmoor, just 20 minutes to the south in
Colorado Springs. Ponderosa pines, pinon and juniper line the fairways
with rolling mounds, ponds and almost tame deer and wild turkey.” (The
Department of Defense did come under fire a number of decades ago when
it was discovered that the toilet seats at this course cost $400 a pop.)And the number of golf courses is often undercounted, with controversial courses in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Mosul, Iraq, often left off the lists, which makes assessing the total costs difficult.
Yet some courses rack up staggering expenses as they become far more than mere stretches of grass.
According to journalist Nick Turse,
“The U.S. Army paid $71,614 [in 2004] to the Arizona Golf Resort --
located in sunny Riyadh, Saudi Arabia... The resort actually boasts an
entire entertainment complex, complete with a water-slide-enhanced
megapool, gym, bowling alley, horse stables, roller hockey rink, arcade,
amphitheater, restaurant, and even a cappuccino bar -- not to mention
the golf course and a driving range.”DoD's Sungnam golf course in the Republic of Korea, meanwhile, is reportedly valued at $26 million.
For non-golfers, the military also maintains a ski lodge and resort in the Bavarian Alps, which opened in 2004 and cost $80 million.
6. “The Army goes rolling along!” Vacation resorts aren’t the only explicitly non-defense-related expenditures of the Department of Defense. According to a Washington Post investigation, the DoD also spends $500 million annually on marching bands.
The Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the Marine Corps all maintain their own military bands, which also produce their own magazines and CDs.
bands are [pun intended] “an instrument of military PR,” according to
Al McCree, a retired Air Force service member who owns Altissimo
Recordings, a Nashville record label featuring music of the service
bands.The CDs are--by law--distributed for free, but
that doesn’t mean the private sector can’t profit off these marching
bands. According to the Washington Post article,
“The service CDs have also created a private, profitable industry made
up of companies that obtain the band recordings under the Freedom of
Information Act. They then re-press and package them for public sale.”As
if subsidizing the industry of multibillion-dollar arms dealers weren’t
enough, the record industry is apparently also leeching off the
taxpayer-funded military spending.7. The Pentagon-to-Lockheed pipeline. While
the exorbitant costs of private planes and hundreds of golf courses may
seem bad enough, the most costly problem with the entitlement-culture
of the military happens after generals retire. Since they’re so
used to the luxurious lifestyle, the vast majority of pension-reaping
high-ranking officers head into the private defense industry.According
to William Hartung, a defense analyst at the Center for International
Policy in Washington DC, about 70 percent of recently retired three- and
four-star generals went straight to work for industry giants like
Lockheed Martin.“If you don’t go into industry at this point you are the exception,” Hartung said.
type of government-to-industry pipeline, which he said was comparable
to the odious Wall Street-to-Washington revolving door, drives up the
prices of weapons and prevents effective oversight of weapon
manufacturing companies--all of which ends up costing taxpayers more and
more each year.“I think the overspending on the
generals and all their perks is bad enough, but the revolving door and
the ability of these people to cut industry a break in exchange for high
salaries costs more in the long run,” said Hartung. “This can affect
the price of weapons and the whole structure of how we oversee
companies. It’s harder to calculate, but certainly in the billions,
compared to millions spent on staff per general.
|Liveleak on Facebook|