How to not save $10 or $125 billion

Winter is coming.

Local prognosticators allege the temperature  will dip below freezing early Friday morning. Overnight lows in the 20s are expected all weekend.

The final Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jet is rolled off the assembly line in Marietta Tuesday December 13, 2011. The total cost of the F-22 program was about $62 billion for about 200 planes. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

The final Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jet is rolled off the assembly line in Marietta Tuesday December 13, 2011. The total cost of the F-22 program was about $62 billion for about 200 planes. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Like most Georgians, I’m frightened. And, like most of you, I’ve properly hoarded copious amount of beer, milk, cereal and cured meats. My canned soup collection is strong.

I’ve even walked around on the porch in my thickest winter coat and found at least one pair of matching gloves and a ski cap.

While digging through various coat pockets I came across a forgotten $10 bill. I immediately pondered how to best spend it.

The wife suggested stuffing it into the rainy day fund (aka “sock drawer”) but that’s about as exciting as the University of Georgia’s football team.

I splurged on a double cheeseburger and felt good about it.

Finding $10 in a coat is nice, but what if I found more — say $125 billion.

Impossible you say?

Well, yes. I doubt even Santa’s magical attire could fit that much cold cash in its pockets.

But, something similar did happen at the Pentagon, home of profligate spending.

The Washington Post reports a study requested by the Defense Department discovered a way to cut $125 billion in wasteful spending but its findings were “buried” because military officials were worried Congress would cut defense spending if money was saved.

If you find this shocking, you don’t know how government works.

As the fiscal year ends many government offices, from the smallest city department to the largest federal one, spends whatever cash remains so it can argue the same amount of funding or more is needed next year.

Smaller government agencies empty the annual coffers by spending hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The Defense Department spends $580 billion a year to fund the military.

A study conducted by the Defense Business Board, an advisory panel of corporate executives, discovered 23 percent of the Pentagon’s budget was spent on “overhead” and $125 billion could be cut over five years.

The study found the Defense Department has almost as many office workers (1 million) as it does active troops (1.3 million). The Army, one of just four branches of the military, employed 199,661 full-time contractors. That exceeds the combined civil workforce for the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development, the Post said.

A private in the Army takes home about $20,000 in pay. The average Pentagon office job was costing taxpayers close to $200,000, including salary and benefits.

What can $125 billion in savings buy you? The operational costs for 50 Army brigades, or 3,000 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for the Air Force, or 10 aircraft-carrier strike groups for the Navy, the report suggested.

The entire F-22 program cost just $62 billion for the 195 planes built in Marietta.

Or, if you prefer, you could almost double the food stamp program. In 2014, the U.S. spent $74 billion to provide food assistance to 46.5 million Americans. Or maybe hundreds of new VA hospitals.

Instead of reallocating the savings to strengthen military power, Pentagon officials worried the study “would undermine repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds,” the Post said.

The report was killed and the data used to create it was made secret so no one else could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report was removed from a Pentagon website.

The next time I find $10 in an old coat pocket I just might save it.


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