The Department of Defense Could Learn a Thing or Two from the Washington Redskins
As 2018 comes to a close and President Trump moves into the second half of his term in the White House, many foreign policy questions hang in the air. How will President Trump tackle the military stalemate in Afghanistan? Will Congress vote to withdraw support for Saudi Arabia in the civil war in Yemen? Even within the past week, President Trump walked back from a tweet criticizing this year’s “crazy” large $716 billion military budget to now embrace a $750 billion military budget for FY2020.
At the root of these foreign policy uncertainties lie two common problems: an inefficient Department of Defense and politicians who cater to special interests.
One of the simplest explanations for the dysfunction at the Department of Defense is its lack of transparency. Even though all other federal agencies have undergone Congressionally mandated audits since 1990, the Department of Defense managed to avoid being audited until this year. Despite having nearly 30 years to prepare for its first audit, the Department of Defense inevitably failed—at which point Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan admitted, “we never expected to pass it.”
With such careless comments emerging from the Department of Defense, it should come as no surprise that the U.S. military suffers from abysmal combat readiness levels, even with the U.S. government having a greater military budget than the next seven highest countries combined and the U.S. government having already spent $5.9 trillion on post-9/11 wars.
Spending an enormous amount of money on the military will only go so far if the money is mismanaged and is not properly accounted. While it is imperative that the U.S. government conceals the innerworkings of its military and intelligence operations from foreign enemies, it is clear that there needs to be more oversight or transparency to prevent the Department of Defense from wasting taxpayer money and putting the lives of our troops at risk.
Perhaps the problems facing the U.S. military are best explained by Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen. In 2014, the Redskins finished their season with only four wins and placed last in their division six times over the previous seven years. During a press conference at the end of their awful 2014 season, Allen optimistically claimed that his team had at least been “winning off the field.” Of course, Allen was ridiculed by both fans and the media for his comments. If the Redskins had been winning off the field—presumably bolstering their coaching staff and acquiring better players—then that would translate into winning more games “on the field.” If anything, the inability of the Redskins to “win off the field” prevented them from winning “on the field.”
Dysfunction in Congress and the Department of Defense is undermining the effectiveness of the U.S. military. In other words, losing off the field is preventing U.S. troops from winning on the field. Ultimately the purpose of the military is, as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee once said in a 2015 presidential debate, “to kill people and break things.” U.S. troops are very good at combat—killing and breaking things—but what happens when we task troops with killing or breaking the wrong things, or they aren’t given the adequate tools to accomplish their objectives? Simply, how does the U.S. military win off the field?
Aside from holding the Department of Defense more financially accountable, there needs to be a much greater focus on the influence of special interests on defense spending and foreign policy. Having Congressional oversight for the Department of Defense is useless if political leaders are corrupted by special interests.
For example, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 aircraft is now 12 years behind schedule and the unit costs for each F-35 have more than doubled since the program began. Lockheed Martin is now 17 years into the $1.5 trillion F-35 program, but the F-35 is still experiencing critical malfunctions and failures. The U.S. military deserves the best equipment—surely they can do better than this Solyndra-esque F-35 debacle. Why would the U.S. government continue to support the F-35, instead of searching for more cost-effective or more capable Joint Strike Fighter alternatives?
It might have something to do with the manufacturing of the aircraft being spread out over 46 different states, thereby ensuring that plenty of Congressmen have a vested interest in preserving the F-35-related jobs in their districts. If those jobs alone weren’t enough to win the support of Congressional leaders, Lockheed Martin made sure to spend over $110 million on lobbying and over $17 million on contributions since 2011. It is no coincidence that in 2016, all of the top 15 recipients of defense industry money were either members of an Armed Services Committee or Appropriations Committee.
The influence of special interests is not limited to government contractors, as foreign governments also try to influence foreign policy decisions.
As reported by the Daily Caller, advisors to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid over $1,000,000 to lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs in 2016, and over $500,000 to lobbying firm GBR Group in 2015. Similarly, Newsweek identified at least five Republican senators who voted against the Yemen war resolution bill in November as having received funding from Saudi lobbyists.
Ultimately, the military is a government bureaucracy. Like any other government bureaucracy, a blank check for the military is not the solution to fixing any waste, fraud, or inefficiencies. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s decision to audit the Department of Defense is a step in the right direction, but Congress must establish adequate oversight to guarantee the potential $750 billion FY2020 military budget is spent properly. Additionally, political leaders need to support American interests overseas, not special interests overseas: only then will the military start winning off the field.