|Posted by Aleck Loker on November 8, 2012 at 10:40 AM|
We’re heading toward a national budget crisis that could dwarf economic problems in Europe. Politicians offer no concrete solution to this crisis, only vague comments about controlling government spending and reducing the deficit. Our national budget exceeds $3 trillion; each one-percent cut equals over $30 billion. Without getting into acrimonious debate about entitlements and government dependence, let’s focus on a part of the federal budget that is so important in Hampton Roads—the Department of Defense (DOD).
DOD drives nearly half of the economic activity in our region. How and how much the government cuts the DOD budget will impact on the economy of Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The defense budget appears bloated when viewed over a span of twelve years. In fiscal year 2000, DOD received less than $300 billion. In 2011, the DOD budget was $687 billion—more than double. In 2012, the defense budget was reduced slightly to $646 billion—a three-percent cut. If we remove $115 billion allocated for overseas contingency operations (wars in the middle-east), we still have a base DOD budget of $531 billon, and that’s about 80 percent more than in 2000. The DOD budget grew at a rate substantially greater than the personal income of the U. S. citizens and much greater than inflation.
We should be able to cut the DOD budget substantially without national consequences. But how would that cut impact us here in Hampton Roads. The answer, of course, is whether the cuts are made intelligently or politically. The three largest categories of expenditures in the DOD budget are Operations & Maintenance ($283 billion in 2010), Military Personnel ($154 billion), and Procurement ($140 billion). Procurement cuts could have significant impact on this area as they might cut shipbuilding and other major programs of local importance. The reductions should be taken in O&M and Military Personnel.
We have about 220,000 military personnel stationed in 144 countries around the world. We should bring home the 100,000 troops stationed in Europe. The Soviet threat has not existed for more than two decades. Russian tanks are not poised to conquer Europe. The presence of 100,000 troops in Europe is not justified from a national defense perspective. The troops are there to prop up the European economy—just another form of foreign aid.
That European presence is a mission our Defense Department should no longer support. Those troops can be withdrawn and returned to civilian life, reallocated to serious global hotspots, or used in some domestic program such as border defense. Bringing them home will allow deep cuts in the Operations & Maintenance and Military Personnel accounts without negative impact on Hampton Roads. An expanded naval presence will accomplish more than forces in Europe and provide the agility we need to react to world crises.
Finally, removal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan will save lives—the most important saving. That withdrawal will trim most of the Overseas Contingency Operations portion of the defense budget—more than $100 billion per year.