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Budget Buster: Pentagon Unable to Account for “Trillions,” Glain Says

The United States military budget accounts for over 40% of the world's annual military expenditures and, at around $700 billion per year, more than 20% of the federal budget. The Federal government wants to curb that spending as part of deficit reduction.

Last week's deficit deal calls for up to $350 billion in cuts over the next decade on the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, among others. And, if the debt "super-committee" fails to reach a deal on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, it will automatically trigger an additional $500 billion in cuts over the next decade.

Cutting in a bureaucracy as large and convoluted as the Pentagon is no easy task, but Stephen Glain author of State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America's Empire says there are three issues at the heart of their spending problem.

Growing obligations: Much like other public sector groups, the Pentagon has growing liabilities coming from pension and medical insurance plans. It's "very much a microcosm" of the problems facing the country, says Glain. The Pentagon's liability for civilian employees is currently $60 billion and the "rate of growth is enormous," says Glain. The figure was $15 billion a decade ago.

Accounting Problems: You think Enron's accounting was troubled? The Pentagon has very little accountability when it comes to its books. Since first submitting financial accounts in 1991, the Pentagon "has been unable to account for trillions of dollars, well over almost $10 trillion by my own account," says Glain. Conspiracy theorists suggest this is CIA money being laundered through the Pentagon, a claim Glain has some sympathy for.

Ending the Wars: Ending operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will instantly save the defense department $180 billion per year. According to Joseph Stiglitz the wars have cost the government $3 trillion and counting.

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