By BEN FREEMAN
In what some are calling an "unprecedented" campaign, defense contractors as an industry bloc are fighting reductions in national security spending to preserve their place on the government gravy train. Spearheaded by the Aerospace Industries Association, the so-called "Second to None" campaign has reportedly enlisted the help of LMG Inc., a Washington public affairs firm, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments to push its agenda. This is on top of at least $700,000 they have donated to Members of the Super Committee in the past five years.
The campaign’s website sets up a straw man by asserting that “extreme voices” are asking for massive cuts to national security, countering that “moderates are calling for a more careful approach that cuts waste and gets rid of things that don’t work or that we don’t need.”
Yet the Second to None campaign is the extreme voice, fighting to preserve a level of defense spending higher than at any point during the Cold War, even adjusting for inflation. The U.S. is Second to None when it comes to defense spending. No other country in the world even comes close to the amount we spend. In fact, the U.S. spends more than five times as much on defense as China—the country with the second highest level of defense expenditures. The U.S. spends nearly as much on national security as the rest of the world combined. Even with significant cuts to defense spending, the U.S. will remain Second to None. As the U.S. faces a fiscal crisis and major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawing to a close, it is only sensible that the U.S. should spend significantly less on defense.
Furthermore, no one should be fooled by Second to None’s assertion that they are the moderate voices: their website offers no recommendations to cut waste, get rid of programs that don’t work or that aren’t needed. Making specific recommendations would likely upset this alliance of defense contractors whose united front is fighting simply to keep their spigot of money flowing.
Also, true to the lobbying effort’s name, defense contractors are the top recipients of defense spending. Since fiscal year 2003, when the war in Iraq began, more than half of all spending on U.S. national security has gone to Department of Defense (DoD) contractors. Spending on weapons programs has long been dominated by contractors. A much lesser known fact is that contractors also receive a majority of all dollars spent on DoD personnel. In other words, DoD service contractors earn more than all DoD uniformed personnel, even though there are more uniformed personnel than service contractors. Should we really be paying more of our tax dollars to defense service contractors than to all of our men and women in uniform?
If taxpayers had received more value for their money that poured into the coffers of service contractors we might feel differently. But the Commission on Wartime Contracting recently found that $34 billion has been wasted or misspent on service contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database has also identified billions of dollars in defense contractor misconduct.
Some are claiming that cuts to defense spending would cost American jobs. Yet much of the increase in defense spending since 2001 has been spent on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of whom are not U.S. citizens, according to a recent analysis by the Congressional Research Service. In fact, the DoD could fire more than 115,000 contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan without firing a single American.
Now, the industry that has been overcharging taxpayers for years, siphoning off more national security spending than all of our men and women in uniform, is bankrolling a lobbying campaign to keep the money rolling in. The Super Committee should make taxpayers and our men and women in uniform Second to None, not the overpaid, unaccountable defense contractor industry.
Ben Freeman is POGO’s National Security Fellow.
Image via Flickr user melanieburger.