Mitt Romney and military funding

One of Mitt Romney’s big ideas is a dramatic increase in funding for the U.S. military. As a taxpayer this reminds me of watching $1 billion Navy ships confronting a few Somalis in a rubber boat with an outboard motor and wondering “How could we possibly afford to sort through these guys one at a time?”

A friend of mine is a retired Air National Guard officer. I asked him whether he thought that his corner of the military was spending money efficiently. He said “My entire branch of the Air Force should not have existed. State governors don’t need fighter jets at their command. The Air National Guard should be merged with the Air Force Reserve.”

How would that save money?

“There are about 6000 officers and civilians in the Air National Guard headquarters at Andrews Air Force base. We call it the ‘crystal palace’. Every person there has a job that duplicates a job in the Air Force Reserve, which usually duplicates a job in the mainline Air Force. For example, there are F-16s, KC-135s, and C-130s in all three of these branches. Each branch therefore has a group of program managers who are responsible for buying spare parts for, say, the F-16. Each branch has ‘career field managers’ for every possible job within the branch, e.g., maintenance or finance.”

How much would that save? If we figure $300,000 per year per person, including real estate and pension and health care benefits, 6000 people costs about $1.8 billion per year (admittedly less than 1/500th of an Obama annual deficit).

My friend said “Don’t forget that the same thing can be done in reverse for the Army. Give the Army Reserve to the governors to be part of the National Guard.” He finished by pointing out that Congress and the military seldom truly save money because they are seldom willing to shut anything down completely. Instead of closing a base, they will cut operations to 10 percent of what they had been, but this leaves the taxpayer still with about 75 percent of the cost.

At first glance it would appear that Mitt Romney, having noticed that the country is spending way beyond its means, has decided to give one of the world’s least efficient organizations a whole lot more money. Has Romney articulated how our society will benefit by putting extra money into the military?

5 thoughts on “Mitt Romney and military funding

  1. Romney is against the dramatic cuts for the military, not necessarily for spending more than they do now… At least that’s what he and Ryan said during the debates

  2. presidentpicker: says that Romney wants to increase military funding to 4 percent of GPD (above where it is now). confirms that the 4 percent is a “floor”. The same page talks about the unbelievable scale of waste in the U.S. military. Romney says that he is going to reform the military so that it stops wasting money and then feed it a huge amount of extra $$. Everything Romney says on his site sounds reasonable except that nobody has ever been able to do anything remotely comparable. It is like saying “We are going to make U.S. Government Agency X as efficient as Honda and then just imagine all of the cool stuff that Agency X will be able to do, since their budget is 20 times what Honda spends.”

  3. To play devil’s advocate (lord knows I’m not pro-military spending), redundant systems in national defense don’t seem like the worst kind of waste. If one actually believes that we face military threats that our military is actually prepared to defend against, two or three-fold redundancy of the entire chain actually sounds fairly reasonable and prudent.

  4. I’m retired Air Force, and worked with the Air Guard and Air Reserve while I was on active duty. Just to clarify one point, the U.S. only operates about 1.7 Air Forces, not three.

    That’s because the Air Force Reserve is directly managed by the U.S. Air Force, whereas the Air Guard has its own chain of command. While there is close coordination between the Guard and Active Air Forces, your friend is correct to say that there is considerable redundancy between the two Air Forces.

    The good news is that despite that redundancy, both the Guard and Reserve work considerably cheaper than the full time Air Force.

    As a former airline pilot I know you understand the importance of ‘basing’ to professional pilots. The fact that an Air Guard aircrew or technician knows that his base will not be moved out of his state is a strong attractor to the best people.

    An Air Reservist, on the other hand, face the real possibility that the next Brace Realignment and Closure Commission might move their position to a new base thousands of miles away.

    In reality I strongly suspect that folding the Air Guard into the Air Reserve would not save much money in the big scheme of things.

    To be fair, note that there is no Navy or Marine Corps National Guard, the squids seem to muddle along OK with only the Naval and Marine Reserve.

  5. I’m quite sure that moving the ANG functions in to the AF Reserve makes sense, and Mr. Howard’s BRAC concerns don’t seem that relevant as the “need” for an air-intercept capability still requires that units be geographically dispersed even if ‘bases’ are closed. For that matter, out west much of California’s air-intercept sortees are flown by Navy not Air Force or ANG. I’m sure that there are some pension oddities that would need to be worked out but it seems a reasonable answer.

    As for rolling the Army Reserve into the NG, I’m not quite as sanguine about that. Unlike the AF, the Army has done a great deal of work in splitting the workloads so that the “teeth” are kept in the Regular Army or the NG, and parts of the “tail” that are required only for large deployments (i.e. water purification, POL pipeline construction and operation, etc.) are kept in the Army Reserve. As such, you’d be creating two armies with 100% overlap in capabilities, which is what I think is being expressed as the actual problem with the existence ANG in the first place.

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