As the economy collapses around our heads, the federal government is preparing financial bailout packages totaling an estimated $2 trillion--and that, perhaps, just to start. There's a lot of money going out the door, but one potential loser could be the Pentagon
, reports UPI. A notoriously profligate spender (read this
), the Defense Department, according to the Congressional Budget Office, accounts for more than half of all federal discretionary spending and about 4.5 percent of GDP. And despite what you may think, the Pentagon's budget has not declined since the end of the Cold War; it's now 20 percent greater, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1985 when President Reagan was spending the Soviets into the ground.
In short, the Pentagon is flush with cash, but could the glory days of almost limitless spending be winding down? Defense Secretary Robert Gates seems to think so. "The spigot of defense spending that opened on Sept. 11 is closing," he said at a Senate hearing last month. But the reality of a leaner fiscal climate comes at a bad time for the military services, which are straining to maintain readiness while fighting a two-front war. There's equipment to refurbish or replace, soaring personnel costs, and next-generation weapons to develop.
The latter accounts for much of the Pentagon's bloat. Big-ticket weapons systems are an ever-growing drain on the budget, and the military services have shown little, if any, restraint in approaching Congress for additional funds when their pet projects have gone over budget, often many times over the original cost estimates. The biggest offenders are the Air Force's F-22 and F-35 fighters, the Navy's DDG-1000 destroyer, and the Army's Future Combat Systems program. On average, between 2000 and 2007, says the CBO, the difference between initial cost estimates and the actual price tag upon delivery rose from 6 percent to 27 percent. And systems were, as a rule, delivered 21 months later than expected.