The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Todd Harrison has a new paper out warning that DOD is fast approaching a difficult choice: either fund the people or the weapons they operate, it will soon reach the point where it can’t do both.
This article lays out what is the perennial “guns versus butter” debate. The butter includes pay and benefit increases that have what economists call “stickiness”: they are almost impossible to rollback. The increase in pay and benefits that congress allots DOD each year will crowd out investment in research and new weapons.
The issue with the costs that are being felt by the military are exacerbated by the myriad of deployments to non-hostile locations doing the work of other agencies and that which is not born by the United Nations. At the moment we have costly military contingents in Japan, Korea (ok, still not quite settled), Germany, Italy, South America, Haiti, Cuba, and other places. We also still use soldiers to recruit, liaison with congress, at embassies throughout the world, and train at college campuses. The mission workload at these non-critical locations drains manpower and resources from the focal point of our effort. I would suggest that a real serious adjustment of the missions and tasks which are not critical to the effort should be pared down. Congress and the executive branch have become too accustomed to asking the military to do State Department, USAID, UN, contract security, personnel acquisition, humanitarian, disaster relief and other tasks without regard to the costs.
That is not to say that some costly DoD items (healthcare at the top of the list) could not be considered for adjustment. I could see a plan to increase co-pays for senior Officers, Senior Enlisted members reflecting the normal healthcare costs for most Americans. The offset for the increases gradually imposed on service members and with sufficient alternatives. Military healthcare is far better and less costly to military retirees than equivalent civilian healthcare plans. I base this on my own observations as I pay for a civilian healthcare plan because as a grey area reserve Retiree I’m not eligible for military healthcare. Trust me, the Tricare plan costs are very reasonable (absolutely cheap!) and some more costs could be shouldered by those that use it.