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Words from Winterbilt

February is a Good Month

Shannon Bohrer

(2/2014) I have always been fond of the month of February. It is patriotic because itís Presidents month, itís the month of my birthday, and itís the beginning of the end of winter and the beginning of the early spring. Itís also the month for love: Valentineís Day. Continuing with my New Yearís resolution of reading, learning, and general reflection, I thought it might be good to see what we can learn from the former presidents. Additionally, Congress passed a budget bill. You heard me correctly: Congress passed a budget and the president signed it! If for no other reason, we should be happy this February, because the Congress did something.

Regarding the budget, I believe we have an opportunity to celebrate our government instead of just complaining about it (well, maybe). Of course, even with a budget bill being passed, we did hear some complaints, the biggest being the fact that military retirees would forgo a one percent increase in their retirements, starting two years from now. One commentator stated that the one percent would amount to over $6,000. I donít think the commentator really thought it through because if one percent is $6,000, the retirement would be $600,000 dollars. Maybe he meant over the life of a retirement.

Since the one percent seemed to cause so much trouble, I thought I would do a little research. The first thing I found was that the (reported) reason for the budget resolution was the sequestrationó meaning that, without the budget the military would take a big hit. However, trying to find out where the money for the military goes was both easy and difficult. What did surprise me was that in the total budget, one out of every five dollars is spent on defense. You must understand, thatís with a $3.7 trillion budget... and a lot of that is still being borrowed!

The real question is: Where does the money go? I found it strange that no one knows for sure, but they think that 25 percent of the military budget actually goes to the troops, while the rest goes to contactors, operations, and armaments. Just a few strange things I found: In 2001, KBR got a contract to feed the troops in Iraq. The price of each meal was $5 and they hired the previous contractor, who provided the meals for $3. KBR is a subsidiary of Halliburton. In a very strange coincidence, at the same time KBR got the contract the pentagon started no bid contracts. In 2010, a congressional earmark sought $2.5 billion for ten C-17 aircrafts. The problem was that the Air Force said they did not need them.

And now for the latest and best: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This is the new generation of high tech aircraft, with three different models available. One is for the Air Force, one for the Navy, and one for the Marines. You would think that if they are already going to make three, why not make a fourth for the Army. Now, when I say one for each, I am not talking about one plane, just one model for each.

The original cost estimate for the F-35 program was $233 billion. However, the current cost estimate is over $400 billion. Originally, the maker (Lockheed) said the cost for each plane would be $75 million. However, the current estimate is $137 million per plane. That should not be a problem since Lockheed gave $159 million to lobbying in the last 12 yearsó and they also gave money to 425 members of Congress. And just one more coincidence: the development of the plane started in 2001.

With the first batch of planes delivered, the Pentagon Inspector General did identify a few problems with the F-35 program. But, he only found 719 problems, a few of them being that takeoffs might have to be postponed if the temperature is too cold (below 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and that the test plans are not allowed to be flown at night. Also, the planes cannot fly faster than the speed of sound. Another minor issue: they canít fly within 25 miles of lighting. Also, according to the pilots, the visibility in the cockpit is poorer than our existing fighter plans. It is not April 1 and I am not making this up.

I did find a few positive things about the F-35 project, one being that the original projected maintenance cost for thirty years was over one trillion dollars. However, with some good pencils and calculators, this estimate has been reduced to only $857 million. Another positive is that the manufacturer has suppliers in forty six states, which means that the government money is really being spread around. On the negative side, there are four states that do not seem to be benefiting.

You would think that with all the money the pentagon is spending, they would reduce spending of a few projects and not cut the military pensions. Then again, it was once said that, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex." President Eisenhower said that during his farewell address in 1961.

As I stated earlier, trying to find out where the money for the military goes was both easy and difficult. I did find out that the Pentagon was audited in 1997. Of course, that was also the year that all federal agencies were required to be audited, just like private businesses. "Serious financial management problems" is how the Government Accountability Office described the Pentagon. However, the Pentagon says it will be ready for another audit in 2017, which is really close.

It was an American general that said, "It is enough to make one curse their own species for possessing so little virtue & patriotism." The general was talking about the overcharging by business suppliers for his troops in a time of war. It was in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, when General Washington, later President Washington, made these remarks. In a strange way, it is comforting to know that the problems we face with the military budget are not new. Well, letís just celebrate Presidents Month.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer