Dave Gilson

Dave Gilson

Senior editor

Senior editor at Mother Jones. Obsessive generalist, word wrangler, data cruncher, pun maker.

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Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones. Read more of his stories, follow him on Twitter, or contact him.

Hagel's Pentagon Cuts Target Top Brass

| Tue Feb. 25, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced major cuts to the Pentagon budget. If implemented, the proposal would shrink the Army to its smallest size since World War II. Tighter budgets, Hagel said, require a smaller force, though he maintained that a downsized military still "would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater—as it must be—while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary."

The budget also targets personnel costs, with cuts to soldiers' housing allowances and commissary subsidies, as well as potential increases in health-care fees for the family of active service members. Hagel also proposed a one-percent pay raise in 2015, though pay for flag officers and generals would be frozen at current levels.

Those cuts take a small swipe at what's known as "brass creep"—the swelling ranks of generals and admirals who earn high salaries and retire with cushy pensions. Congress approved multiple raises during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but a look at base pay rates (what soldiers earn before add-ons like housing allowances and combat pay) shows that the wartime wages didn't trickle down the chain of command.

Any cuts that directly affect the rank-and-file (not to mention retired service members) will be unpopular. Yet they address the reality that even though three-quarters of the Pentagon's budget goes to hardware, contractors, and operations, an increasing amount is spent on the troops. While the number of Americans in uniform increased 3 percent during the past decade, the annual cost per person doubled, to around $115,000.

Though these Pentagon cuts are being described as major, Hagel and the president's proposed future budgets still exceed the limits put on the military by the suspended sequester cuts—which already kept defense spending at the level it was at during the height of the war in Iraq. The United States is in no danger of being knocked off its perch as the world's biggest military spender in the near future. There's much more on the battle to rein in the size of the post-9/11 military here.

 

 

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Let's Roll: Unraveling the Pentagon's Toilet Paper Budget

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:00 AM EST

They say that an army marches on its stomach, but another measure of a military's power may be how it protects its rear. The prospect of running out of government-issued TP has become a talking point against trimming defense spending. Former Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work cautioned that if sequestration was allowed to continue, "we will go back to 1975 where I'm buying toilet paper for my Marines." Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) warned of the bad old days before 9/11 when "we did not have enough money to get toilet paper for some of our soldiers." So far, budget austerity does not appear to have seriously affected strategic toilet paper reserves, though the Air Force Academy went into a temporary holding pattern when its tissue procurer was furloughed.

Click here for more on the Pentagon's bottom line.

Just how much TP the military goes through is a bureaucratic enigma. (Grunts in Vietnam were reportedly issued 19 squares a day.) According to contracting data, the Pentagon bought an average of $2 million worth of "toiletry paper products" annually between 2000 and 2010. Yet that figure jumped to $130 million in 2012. A closer look at the numbers reveals about $58 million of paper products you might conceivably wipe with, plus a ton of padding—including $2.7 million of lightbulbs and $9.6 million of canning supplies. Let's just chalk up those to the Pentagon's infamously sloppy accounting system.

So who is getting flush on the military's bathroom budget? In 2012, the Pentagon's—and the government's—biggest vendor of toiletry paper products was Georgia-Pacific, a.k.a. Koch Industries.

Is This Plane the Biggest Pentagon Rip-Off of All Time?

| Fri Dec. 13, 2013 6:27 PM EST

The passage of the Ryan-Murray budget plan in the House sends a strong signal that the Pentagon's budget is basically untouchable. Under the deal, the military's base budget (which doesn't include supplemental funding for overseas operations and combat) will be restored to around $520 billion next year—more than it got in 2006 and 2007, when the United States was fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read our full package on the enormous, untouchable Pentagon budget.

As Erika Eichelberger reports, the deal could spell the end of efforts to make the Pentagon budget more efficient, particularly in the realm of procurement and contracting. Exhibit A is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the stealthy, high-tech fighter jets that are supposed to do everything from landing on aircraft carriers and taking off vertically to dogfighting and dropping bombs. Faced with sequestration cuts, the Air Force had considered delaying its purchases of the fighters, which are years behind schedule, hugely over budget, and plagued with problems. If the House budget plan becomes law and sequestration is eased for two years, those plans also may be shelved. 

More on the pricey plane with a reputation as the biggest defense boondoggle in history:

  • Rolling out the F-35 originally was expected to cost $233 billion, but now it's expected to cost nearly $400 billion. The time needed to develop the plane has gone from 10 years to 18.
  • Lockheed says the final cost per plane will be about $75 million. However, according to the Government Accountability Office, the actual cost has jumped to $137 million.
  • It was initially estimated that it could cost another $1 trillion or more to keep the new F-35s flying for 30 years. Pentagon officials called this "unaffordable"—and now say it will cost only $857 million. "This is no longer the trillion-dollar [aircraft]," boasts a Lockheed Martin executive.
  • Planes started rolling off the assembly line before development and testing were finished, which could result in $8 billion worth of retrofits.
  • A 2013 report by the Pentagon inspector general identified 719 problems with the F-35 program. Some of the issues with the first batch of planes delivered to the Marines:
    • Pilots are not allowed to fly these test planes at night, within 25 miles of lightning, faster than the speed of sound, or with real or simulated weapons.
    • Pilots say cockpit visibility is worse than in existing fighters.
    • Special high-tech helmets have "frequent problems" and are "badly performing."
    • Takeoffs may be postponed when the temperature is below 60°F.
  • The F-35 program has 1,400 suppliers in 46 states. Lockheed Martin gave money to 425 members of Congress in 2012 and has spent $159 million on lobbying since 2000.
  • Remember this bumper sticker?

And those are fancy, San Francisco foodie cupcakes.

We've got much more on the Pentagon budget here.

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