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Pentagon Should Take Lead in Showing How to be Efficient with Taxpayer Money

Congress might want to look at saving money, instead of finding creative ways to spend it. There are a number of problems with the current trajectory of spending in the federal government. Problem number one is that the current Congress is spending time to find ways to spend more money they don’t have without giving any consideration to making the government more efficient to help offset the cost of new programs. Another problem is the growing debt that is approaching $30 trillion in total with this year expected to pile on more than $3 trillion in new debt.

There are opportunities in military spending to implement policies that will be more efficient with taxpayer cash.

Many economists agree that the current federal spending spree is mind boggling. Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute estimates that the Biden Build Back Better proposal is likely to “cost nearly $5 trillion over the decade,” because of accounting gimmicks like the “bill’s authors included a December 2025 expiration of the $130 billion annual expansion of the child tax credit to $3,000 per child (or $3,600 for children under the age of 6).” Dan Mitchell wrote for the Club for Growth “this massive spending increase will divert resources from the economy’s productive sector, and it will be partly financed by punitive, class-warfare taxes that penalize work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.” The bottom line is that spending is accelerating while the federal government largely ignores the debt crisis and makes little effort to find efficiencies in existing government programs.

Right now the government is running existing programs on a continuing resolution. That causes separate efficiency problems. The Continuing Resolution, (CR) is keeping current spending at large deficit levels for the next few months. Also operating under a CR causes inefficiency in government contracting. The Pentagon is waiting to learn how much it will have to spend in this current fiscal year which puts all new contracting on hold.

Lawmakers want to spend $10 billion more in 2022 than they did in 2021 in Pentagon spending yet that increase is put on hold while Congress wrestles over a $5 trillion plan for new spending that will not protect America from China and other threats. “The Defense Appropriations bill provides resources requested by the Secretary of Defense to protect our national security, maintain a strong industrial base to support good paying jobs, and counter the rising threats from our adversaries, including China,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro said. But the Pentagon can’t do that until there is an approved budget.

The budget crisis doesn’t sideline plans to protect the U.S. and save money at the same time by creating efficiencies.

Right now, the Air Force is working to replace its refueling tanker fleet. These aircraft serve the important purpose of conducting in-flight refueling from the tanker to the aircraft to keep our flying defenses airborne longer. The Air Force is in the process of developing a next generation tanker system in a decade or so. Until then, it needs about 150 “bridge tankers” to fill the gap. The good news is that it doesn’t need to spend anything to test them. It’s already invested more than $1.5 billion testing out the KC-46 Pegasus jet, and that plane is ready to do the job.

Unless the Air Force decides they want to embrace inefficiency by starting over with a foreign designed tanker, the European tanker, made by the French company Airbus, is the only other plausible “bridge tanker.” This is so because the Air Force has set out exacting parameters that only two manufacturers are in a position to meet. The tankers must be based on “existing and emerging technologies,” for example.

For political reasons, “the Airbus alternative is getting a push in Congress from legislators tied to Alabama, where Airbus would send jetliners to be modified into a tanker configuration if it had a U.S. buyer. The Airbus tanker might be offered in concert with Lockheed Martin, which has a teaming arrangement with Airbus on aerial refueling opportunities,” writes military analyst Loren Thompson.

It goes without saying that it would be a waste of money to start flight testing a foreign plane when there is a domestic one that is already approved.

The bottom line is the bottom line. The Air Force can have the tankers it needs to keep our fighters and bombers in the sky. It can have them at an affordable price, designed and made here in America. The KC-46 is the easy choice. Even if lawmakers are hesitating, there is no reason for the Air Force to do so.

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Michael Busler

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.

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