Sergeant Pork

Let me preface this by saying that I am 100% in favor of the US have a robust, powerful military.  Even the most hardcore libertarians agree that national defense is a core function of the government.  My problem with the military is the bloat.

In 2010 the Department of Defense was budgeted by Congress $680 billion.  Another $37 billion was later added to support the war effort in Afghanistan.  And, there are another $200-360 billion spent on the military outside of the Department of Defense budget.  So, we’re talking about roughly a trillion dollars a year.

Our budget is almost the same size as the rest of the world’s total military spending.  Our navy is bigger than the next 13 navies combined.  We are well within the realm of overkill when it comes to conventional armed conflicts, especially when you consider how many of the next-largest militaries are most likely going to either be on our side, or at least not fight against us (UK, France, Australia, South Korea, etc).

At the moment, EADS and Boeing are competing for the contract to build 179 new tanker aircraft for the Air Force, a contract that could potentially expand to 400-500 planes and would, in that event, be worth an estimated $100 billion.

Both of the companies’ proposals topped 8000 pages.  Now I know these are sophisticated aircraft with a lot of high tech hardware and software involved, but we’re not talking about thousands of pages of schematics.  These proposals are largely filled up with data about deadlines and how funds will be tracked and how many minority-owned subcontractor companies will be hired to shred documents.

I know this stuff probably needs to be in there, but I think 8000+ pages raises a strong presumption that there is a lot of junk in these documents that should be cut.  In 1942 the P-51 Mustang was a state of the art fighter plane.  There are numerous reports of engagements where a P-51 would receive over 100 hits by enemy machine guns and still manage to fly safely back to base.  From blank pages to an operational plane, it took only 117 days to develop.  Do you think the contract proposal was 800 pages?  Or even 80 pages?

But who cares if these contract proposals are overly thorough, right?  It’s peace time (for the most part), and we don’t have to rush things out.  Well, those pages cost money.  Assume pretty conservatively that each page took only 1 hour to create.  The folks working on these contracts at EADS and at Boeing are averaging salaries around $80,000 (shit you learn being raised by two government contractors).  One hour per page translates to 4 full time jobs, or about $320,000 per proposal.  And remember, that’s just their salaries.  If you add in the cost of their benefits and overhead, we’re easily going to top $500,000 for each proposal, and there’s two of them.

On the other side, someone in the military has to read and review the proposals.  Let’s again assume about an hour per page.  Remember, it’s not just leisure reading, we’re talking about highly technical documents that require some analysis.  So, we’ve got 16,000 pages combined, which would mean 8 full time employees.  It’s the military, so salaries will be a bit lower, though it’s not Private Santiago reading these things, it’ll be people a bit higher up.  And, military folks get much better benefits than the civilians (that housing stipend is pretty nice), so let’s say all combined we’re looking at maybe $750,000 in costs to pay people to read both of these proposals.

That might not seem like very much, especially when you consider the deal might be worth $100 billion in the long run.  It would be downright ludicrous not to spend a couple million checking it out first.  And, they probably will.  Remember, we’re just at the proposal phase.  At some point Air Force will choose who to go with and then the actual contract will get drawn up and we’ll have to go through all this nonsense again, but this time with the blessings over everyone’s lawyers.

The problems here are two fold.

First, no one will ever read the contract proposal or the final contract.  It’s 8000 pages, and the final contract is likely to be much longer once it gets stuffed full of legalese and boilerplate.  It is so long that it is extraordinarily unlikely that any one person will read the entire contract, and if they did, the thing is too big for any one person to comprehend.  It may turn out that this isn’t an issue.  But, we should be worried by the fact that if there is an issue, the whole process is too large and complex for anyone to find it.  I doubt there will be some disastrous complication, but there are almost certainly tons of redundant tasks, communication problems and various smaller oversights that will run up the costs.  Also, the sheer size of the things prevents us from having any one person who can stand up and say they are responsible for the project.  By the very nature of the thing, it’s impossible for anyone to be accountable, and if they are, it’s merely for show, not because they can actually oversee the whole thing.

The second problem is even worse.  We like to think that the private sector is more efficient than the government, and you know, I agree.  I’ll throw in my vote with Virgin Galactic over NASA any day of the week.  And that’s a great argument when you want to say XYZ industry should not be nationalized.  But, it’s a terrible argument for saying the government should outsource.  Like the government, the private sector has a lot of waste and inefficiencies.  If the government is obese, then the private sector is on average quite husky.

When we outsource to the private sector, we add a huge thick layer of fat.  The private companies have to send in contract proposals, and then maybe a second proposal, and then negotiate the final contract, and then the real mess begins.  The government doesn’t just stand aside and let the private sector go to work.  Noooo, it requires constant monitoring, tracking how money is spent, and demands a mountain of paperwork complying with a zillion demands.  The government basically just spreads its inefficiencies on to the private sector, but now they exist on both sides, so now we have government inefficiency, private sector inefficiency, and the government-imposed inefficiency on the private sector.  Government outsourcing takes the husky private sector and turns it into a morbidly obese monster that makes the marginally obese government look down right sexy in comparison.

Also, does the US Navy need an 18 piece jazz ensemble?  Assume an average salary of $30,000, plus $10,000 in benefits, and we’re looking at a band that costs $720,000 a year.  The ensemble was formed in 1969.  If instead of spending money on a jazz band, we spent the same amount of money on building schools in Afghanistan, what do you think the odds of 9/11 happening would have been?  Which seems more directly related to national defense, rehearsing Such Sweet Thunder so the Navy jazz band can go on a tour of mid-Atlantic city parks, or stabilizing a volatile region of the world and creating good will with foreign citizens?

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6 Responses to “Sergeant Pork”

  1. es Says:

    clearly, you hate the troops and want al qaida to come force us all be muslims like the president.

  2. bl1y Says:

    Dude, Obama is not a Muslim, he’s a Secret Muslim, like I am. Confusing the two is like confusing Catholics with Real Christians.

  3. Laura G Says:

    I will not have sex with any Muslim. I think BL1Y must be a Black Muslim, like Yusef Saalam, so he will not get any sex from me.

  4. bl1y Says:

    More like Yusdat Salami, if you know what I mean.

    (I mean I have a giant penis that I put to good use.)

  5. Debbie Says:

    I thought that BL1y was above having meaningless sex, but I suppose I was wrong. I agree with Laura G and will keep my knees together if ever approached by a Muslem or BL1y. I never enjoyed any sex with a guy who has too big a peniss, especially if he demanded oral sex first.

  6. bl1y Says:

    Meaningless sex is an oxymoron.

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