What the GAO report REALLY said about defense spending

On March 1st, the GAO released its first-ever report on duplicative federal programs and policies, leaving no stone unturned and no part of the federal government, including the Department of Defense, unscrutinized. That was as it should have been.

Unfortunately, the GAO’s report has been misportrayed by the DOD’s enemies, i.e. opponents of a strong defense, into something it is not: a report of “numerous” duplicative weapon programs constituting “evidence” that is supposed to justify defense spending cuts. It is nothing of the sort.

AmSpec’s James Antle has falsely claimed that:

“The nonpartisan General Accounting Office (GAO) has looked into the amount of duplicate government programs and found a massive amount of waste. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who requested the study, has estimated duplicative spending costs between $100 billion and $200 billion. The GAO wasn’t that specific but concluded, “Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of tax dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services.”

According to a copy of the report obtained by the Wall Street Journal, there’s bloat throughout the government:


  • There are numerous redundancies in the military’s purchase of tactical wheeled vehicles and procurement.

  • The WSJ also has a 12-point summary here. These finding will loom large in the budget battle as this kind of spending — the old-fashioned “waste, fraud, and abuse” — should theoretically be the easiest to cut. Yet even duplicative spending will have its defenders in the executive branch or on Capitol Hill.”


    The false claim here is that the DOD has “numerous” duplicative weapon programs, including “numerous” duplicative tactical vehicle programs. Of course, for ignorant people like Antle and WSJ writers (on whose doctored “summary” he relies for information), every weapon program is duplicative, since it is a “weapon program”, even if it performs a different duty.

    Nonetheless, there are some duplicative weapon- and nonweapon programs at the DOD, and the GAO has scrutinized them all and made its recommendations in its report. (And unlike Antle, I have read the report itself, specifically, its DOD-related portion, so I have information directly from the GAO.) And the GAO’s report doesn’t specify any figure of potential annual or multi-annual savings. Given that the $200 bn figure comes from an utterly discredited anti-defense Senator who doesn’t even know how to shave, it’s not credible.

    So what did the GAO say in its report? It did note that the DOD has made progress on some fronts, but still, the GAO found several separate examples of duplicative DOD programs of different kinds. That is, the GAO looked in different departments of the Pentagon, and in each one it found some duplicative programs.

    The GAO’s report explains why these departments of the Pentagon were scrutinized particularly carefully, what exact duplicative programs exist, and how to merge them to save money, make the DOD able to deliver stuff to troopers faster, avoid duplicative programs, and ensure that all DOD programs are coordinated and deliver what they’re supposed to deliver.

    The GAO’s full report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11318sp.pdf

    The duplicative DOD programs the GAO has found are:

    1) The DOD’s entire HC system. It employs 130,000 medical professionals and consists of 59 military hospitals. Yet, each service does “it” alone, on its own. Creating a single DOD-wide HC system, with a single surgeon general and with an Assistant Secretary truly responsible for the system, would save $460 mn per year.

    2) The DOD’s ISR platform programs (mostly drones). Problem is, the DOD has several intel agencies, not just one, and each of them has its own ISR platform programs rather than joint programs – the Global Hawk program being the sole exception. Again, the GAO recommends mergers of these programs and coordination.

    3) The DOD’s system for fulfilling warfighters “urgent needs” needs to be consolidated and monitored because today, soldiers can apply to a wide gamut of agencies to provide funding for “urgent needs”.

    4) “Eliminating unnecessary duplication and enabling effective coordination in counter-IED efforts”, to borrow words from the GAO’s report.

    5) “Avoid unnecessary  redundancies and maximize the efficient use of ISR capabilities”, to again borrow words from the GAO’s report.

    6) The GAO recommends “A departmentwide strategy” to reduce “DOD’s risk of costly duplication in purchases of tactical wheeled vehicles”.

    7) The GAO has called for “Improved Joint Oversight of the DOD’s prepositioning programs”. Prepositioning means the deployment of personnel and weapons abroad, rather than in the US, making it possible for American military units to deploy and to fight in days, rather than in weeks as they would have to do if they were to be deployed in the US.

    8) The GAO has called for a modernization of business systems because, the GAO says, “opportunities exist for optimizing business operations and systems”.

    Each of these 8 sub-chapters related to defense spending contains specific recommendations on what exactly the DOD should do. Most of these call for generally the same kind of policies: strengthening the prerogatives, and expanding the duties (including oversight duties), of the SECDEF, Assistant SECDEFs, the Chairman of the JCS, the Joint Staff, and the JIEDDO, to end the parochial habits of military services and DOD agencies.

    The GAO’s report does acknowledge that the DOD has taken many steps to merge duplicative programs and avoid wasteful expenses. But its report also indicates that the DOD still has a lot of work to do.

    My opinion of the GAO’s report is that the DOD should implement those GAO recommendations which pertain to it this Fiscal Year. There’s still plenty of time before this Fiscal Year ends, so the DOD can, together with the Congress, implement these recommendations. If it does, it will save taxpayers money and will be able to reinvest it in priority programs.

    You can download the whole thing from the GAO’s official website: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11318sp.pdf

    EDIT: It’s been reported that many members of Congress are “wary to reduce defense spending”. That’s good.

    “The report took aim at several military programs, which could prove thorny because many lawmakers from both parties are wary to cut defense spending. It said there were 130,000 military and government medical professionals, 59 Defense Department hospitals and hundreds of clinics that could benefit from consolidating administrative, management and clinical functions.

    For example, it said the government “may have developed duplicate” programs to counter improvised explosive devices, with the Marine Corps and the Army paying to develop similar “mine rollers.” The Marine mine roller costs $85,000, and the Army mine roller costs $77,000 to $225,000. “Officials disagree about which system is most effective, and [the Pentagon] has not conducted comparative testing and evaluation of the two systems,” the report said. The Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The GAO study was required by a provision inserted by Sen. Coburn into a law that raised the federal borrowing limit last year. This report is the first produced in response to the provision.

    Online: The Wall Street Journal

    Online: GAO Report



    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s