President Donald Trump on Monday signed a military budget boosting the Pentagon's spending by $82 billion in the next year—a spending increase that dwarfs the entire military budgets of most other nations on Earth. Russia, for example, will spend an estimated $61 billion on its military this year. Total.
With the increased spending included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Pentagon will get to spend more than $700 billion next year. The budget hike was a priority for Trump and was approved by Congress as part of a March spending deal that saw spending on both defense and domestic programs hiked by about $165 billion—smashing through Obama-era spending caps.
This year's NDAA is "the most significant increase in our military and our war-fighters in modern history," Trump said. "It was not very hard. I went to Congress, I said, 'Let's do it, we gotta do it.'"
Indeed, it was not very hard. Democrats are quick to condemn nearly everything Trump proposes and many Republicans are less than enamored with the current occupant of the White House, but partisan animosity vanishes when defense spending comes up. The final House vote on the NDAA—technically known as the "John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act" because you wouldn't vote against something named after an American hero, right?—was 359-54, while the final Senate roll call was 87-10, with only two Republican senators opposing the bill and three declining to cast votes.
The spending increase will allow the Pentagon to hire another 4,000 active duty soldiers, Trump said, and would help replace aging tanks, planes, and ships with "the most advanced and lethal technology ever developed."
"Hopefully, we'll be so strong that we'll never have to use it," Trump said. "But if we ever did, nobody has a chance."
Trump also used the occasion to plug his recent call for the creation of a Space Force, which would be the sixth branch of the U.S. military. A Space Force is necessary, Trump said, to counter aggression from other countries in the final frontier. "I've seen things that you don't even want to see," Trump said, apparently referencing advancements in space technology being developed by other countries.
No worries, Trump seemed to say on Monday, as he promised more spending increases to come—reversing what he said was years of "depleted" spending on the Pentagon.
But as I noted in June when the NDAA cleared the Senate: the Pentagon's biggest problem isn't a shortage of funding, but misuse of the money that it already receives.
Unfortunately, we don't know much about that because the Pentagon has still not been subjected to a full scale audit, despite the fact that all federal agencies and departments were ordered to undergo mandatory audits in 1990. A preliminary audit of just one office within the Pentagon found that more than $800 million could not be accounted for. Auditors said the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)—described as "the military's Walmart" because it's responsible for processing supplies and equipment—has financial management "so weak that its leaders and oversight bodies have no reliable way to track the huge sums it's responsible for."
Whether it's investing in bomb-sniffing elephants, paying $8,000 for something that should cost $50, or shelling out for the famous $640 toilet seat, there's no shortage of absurd waste in the Pentagon. A Reuters probe in 2013 found "$8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out to the Pentagon since 1996 … has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China's economic output [for 2012]."
The Pentagon doesn't need more money, but until politicans from at least one party show a willingness to turn off the tap, there is no incentive for the Department of Defense to change its culture of waste and tradition of opacity.