Hunting for savings in military spending

A pair of reports critical of military spending — on items as diverse as health care and dried meat — are part of the latest round of scrutiny of the Defense Department's budget as the fiscal cliff approaches.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report this month that military compensation over the past decade increased faster than the rate of inflation and, in some years, the growth rate of private-sector wages and salaries.


Another report, by Sen. Tom Coburn, outlined what the Oklahoma Republican sees as wasteful or redundant military expenditures, including the military's creation of its own beef jerky.

"[B]illions of defense dollars are being spent on programs and missions with little or nothing to do with national security, many of which are already being performed by other government agencies or are completely unnecessary," Coburn wrote.


The federal government has been planning for deep cuts to take effect Jan. 3 if congressional lawmakers and President Barack Obama can't agree to deficit reduction.

"I think everyone is starting to put together their cut list," said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. "What would you do if you had to cut more money out of the defense budget?"

The CBO report warned that the mandatory cuts, if they occur, would be "extremely difficult to achieve without reducing the number of military personnel, curtailing their pay and benefits, or undertaking some combination of those two actions."

The federal government spends billions of dollars on bombs, guns, planes, ships and tanks every year. Around a quarter of the Defense Department's annual budget — or $150 billion — goes to military pay, pensions and health care.

That figure does not include costs for the Defense Department's 790,000 civilian employees or the benefits provided by the Department of Veteran Affairs, which total another $130 billion.

The CBO said a series of pay raises over the last decade exceeded the general rate of inflation. The report found that the Defense Department's spending on wages, pension and health benefits for service members, adjusted for inflation, has increased at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent since 2000.

The CBO highlighted one of the most costly programs within the military — Tricare for Life, a Medicare supplement. The CBO report called it the "most significant (and costly) deferred noncash benefit for retirees" of the military, and its cost per person is expected to increase significantly above the rate of inflation over the next decade.

The military requested $48 billion for its health care programs and administration for next year, and the CBO expects that cost to rise to $65 billion by 2017, the report said.


From 2000 to last year, Harrison said, the total compensation per person in the military, including wages and benefits, climbed 46 percent.

"We have a problem," said Harrison. "We can't continue growing like that."

Coburn called his report on Pentagon spending the "Department of Everything."

The fiscal conservative gave recommendations that he estimated could save the government $68 billion or more over 10 years.

In a finding that echoed the CBO report, Coburn wrote that the Defense Department uses "many of its most valuable and most costly employees to perform civilian-type support functions here in the United States or in allied countries such as Germany and England."

Coburn outlined several items he deemed unnecessary, including the Pentagon's spending on running its own grocery stores, making its own beef jerky, operating its own schools for children, and assigning work to military members that could be done by civilians.


Spending on Defense personnel

•Pentagon requested $150 billion for service member compensation in 2013.

•More than $90 billion would go to basic pay, food and housing allowances, bonuses, and various types of special pay.

•$16 billion for accrual payments for future pensions of those expected to retire.


•The remainder would cover health benefits.

Source: Congressional Budget Office