Here are seven absurd ways the military wastes our money–and none of them have anything to do with national defense.
1. A whole battalion of generals? The titles “general” or “admiral” sound like they belong to pretty exclusive posts, fit only for the best of the best. This flashy title makes it pretty easy to say, “so what if a few of our military geniuses get the royal treatment–particularly if they are the sole commanders of the most powerful military in human history.” The reality, however, is that there are nearly 1,000 generals and admirals in the U.S. armed forces, and each has an entourage that would make a Hollywood star jealous.
According to 2010 Pentagon reports, there are 963 generals and admirals in the U.S. armed forces. This number has ballooned by about 100 officers since 9/11 when fighting terror–and polishing the boots of senior military personnel –became Washington’s number-one priority. (In roughly that same time frame, starting in 1998, the Pentagon’s budget also ballooned by more than 50 percent.)
Jack Jacobs, a retired U.S. army colonel and now a military analyst for MSNBC, says the military needs only a third of that number. Many of these generals are “spending time writing plans and defending plans with Congress, and trying to get the money,” he explained. In other words, a large number of these generals are essentially lobbyists for the Pentagon, but they still receive large personal staffs and private jet rides for official paper-pushing military matters.
Dina Rasor, founder of Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, explains that this “brass creep” is “fueled by the desire to increase bureaucratic clout or prestige of a particular service, function or region, rather than reflecting the scope and duties of the job itself.”
It’s sort of like how Starbucks titles each of its baristas a “partner” but continues to pay them just over minimum wage (and a caramel macchiato per shift).
As Rasor writes, “the three- and four-star ranks have increased twice as fast as one- and two-star general and flag officers, three times as fast as the increase in all officers and almost ten times as fast as the increase in enlisted personnel. If you imagine it visually, the shape of U.S. military personnel has shifted from looking like a pyramid to beginning to look more like a skyscraper.”
But the skyscraper model doesn’t mean that the armed forces are democratizing. In fact, just the opposite; they’re gaming the system to allow more and more officers to deploy the full power of the U.S. military to aid their personal lives–whether their actual work justifies it or not.
2. The generals’ flotillas. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates appointed Arnold Punaro, a retired major general in the Marines, to head an independent review of the Pentagon’s budget. Here’s the caution he came up with: “We don’t want the Department of Defense to become a benefits agency that occasionally kills a terrorist.”
So, just how good are these benefits? For the top brass, not bad at all. According to aWashington Post investigation, each top commander has his own C-40 jet, complete with beds on board. Many have chefs who deserve their own four-star restaurants. The generals’ personal staff include drivers, security guards, secretaries, and people to shine their shoes and iron their uniforms. When traveling, they can be accompanied by police motorcades that stretch for blocks. When entertaining, string quartets are available at a snap of the fingers.
A New York Times analysis showed that simply the staff provided to top generals and admirals can top $1 million– per general. That’s not even including their own salaries–which are relatively modest due to congressional legislation–and the free housing, which has been described as “palatial.” On Capitol Hill, these cadres of assistants are called the generals’ “flotillas.”