The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Pentagon Budget: Beef Jerky, Trekkie Conventions, and $17,000 Drip Pans


President Obama heads off to Newport News today, to stand in front of a shipbuilding facility and once again argue that within a couple of days the economy will collapse and the government will cease being able to meet basic duties… unless we eliminate some tax deductions on the rich, because it’s been nearly two months since we’ve raised taxes on the rich.

Mr. President, let’s take a look at how the Pentagon has chosen to spend money recently, expenditures that have left them with no cushion for the cuts for sequestration. Senator Tom Coburn is kind enough to keep an eye on these sorts of things.

For example, the Office of Naval Research’s  Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) program has spent more than $1.5 million to develop a new kind of beef jerky. Really.

With $21,000 from the Pentagon, the 100-Year Starship  organization hosted a September symposium for interstellar discussion.  “Former Trekkies Levar Burton and Nichelle Nichols made special appearances. The latter headlined an ‘intergalactic gala celebration.’ Attendees needed to wear ‘starship cocktail attire.’”

Yes, while I’m sure the ideas discussed at the convention were fascinating, your tax dollars basically sponsored a Star Trek convention.

Outside of the Coburn report, we can find that the Pentagon is spending $17,000 for every drip pan used on a Black Hawk helicopter:

Thanks to a powerful Kentucky congressman who has steered tens of millions of federal dollars to his district, the Army has bought about $6.5 million worth of the “leakproof” drip pans in the last three years to catch transmission fluid on Black Hawk helicopters. And it might want more from the Kentucky company that makes the pans, even though a similar pan from another company costs a small fraction of the price: about $2,500.

Our friends at Citizens Against Government Waste point out that the fiscal 2012 appropriations for the Defense Department includes $239 million for cancer research, including studies on breast cancer, $5.1 million for autism research,  and $3.2 million for bone marrow failure disease research. Research for cures for diseases is a wonderful thing, but one wonders why the Department of Defense is funding it, because the Labor/HHS appropriations bill already set aside $5.1 billion for the National Cancer Institute, $69.1 million for research on autism and $23.4 million for research on bone marrow disease .

Finally, about the shipbuilding itself, Coburn’s staff finds that the Navy is contracting to two different two different companies to build their new Littoral Combat Ships. Now, wiser defense minds than me may argue that there is a national security benefit to having two different companies building two different kinds of ships designed for the same mission, with “unique weapons systems and internal components and will require separate crew training, construction oversight, parts, and maintenance infrastructure throughout the life of the ships.” Perhaps our foes may find out a vulnerability in one that they won’t find in the other. But this approach has a cost, which is roughly $148 million more than building the same ship with one contractor for the four ships under construction. If the U.S. government purchases all 20, the cost will run up to $740 million.

But remember, if sequestration takes effect, the Department of Defense will have absolutely no choice but to have 800,000 civilian employees working only four days a week and to delay the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. Really, it’s the only options they have, there’s no other place in the budget they could cut spending.

Tags: Barack Obama , Department of Defense , Sequestration


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