Monday, August 16, 2010

How We Spend Matters, Even at DOD

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has undertaken an effort to reform the Pentagon's budget. Praise came swiftly, but has been somewhat tempered the last few days. NPR had a story about how taxpayers won't see any benefit, at least not anytime soon, from Gates' plan. This was due to the fact that the cuts will come from programs that the Pentagon thinks are no longer necessary, but the savings will be redirected into programs that the Pentagon thinks are necessary. Blogger Matthew Yglesias says he is supportive of the effort, but that we really should be talking about reducing total defense spending.

Since I'm all about the spending, I agree we should be talking about the total level of spending on defense. But the question of how we spend is very closely related to how much we spend. Transforming defense spending so that it is primarily directed toward programs that defense officials feel are necessary and appropriate, seems like a step in the right direction. The alternative, and current reality, is that many defense projects are directed, or kept alive long after their usefulness, due to intervention by congressman because the projects benefit their districts.

We don't have to let the military have total control over spending, but moving the needle a little bit away from Congress and toward the professional men and women tasked with actually carrying out our defense seems like a better way to do things. Besides, I'm reasonably sure that I know how Yglesias would respond if he had to choose between letting the career professionals at the Pentagon handle the spending decisions or letting, say, Mike Pence do it.

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