The Pentagon Must Now Reveal the True Cost of War to All Americans
America at War

The Pentagon Must Now Reveal the True Cost of War to All Americans

Baz Ratner

Congress has approved a new annual defense authorization that mandates the Defense Secretary and the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner to reveal on-line all of the costs of running the military and waging war overseas. 

The requirement comes as Republican President-elect Donald Trump has begun scrutinizing the Defense Budget and voicing complaints about excessive spending and over-the-top defense contracts. Although he has promised a major buildup of the armed services to make the U.S. military the most feared in the world, Trump has also vowed to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in government. 

Related: Congress Just Gave $619 Billion to the Pentagon that Wasted $125 Billion 

Department of Defense officials have frequently provided updates of the costs of overseas operations since 2001, with special emphasis on the more than two-year old war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The latest estimate for the campaign against the Islamic terrorists is about $12.5 million a day or close to $10.5 billion over the last two years, according to the Military Times. 

The military brass has also placed the 2003 to 2011 cost of the U.S. war in Iraq at more than $800 billion, and the cost of operations in Afghanistan at more than $700 billion since 2001. However, some lawmakers and analysts are suspicious that DOD and other agencies have been low-balling costs.

The new defense authorization bill now requires disclosure of all costs, “including the relevant legacy costs, to each American taxpayer of each of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.” That means that the ongoing costs of veterans and other personnel must be included. That tap is estimated at between $5 and $6 trillion, all in. 

The new requirement was inserted in the massive bill by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). The liberal civil rights icon and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee which approves all taxes. Lewis told reporters last week that he hoped the on-line disclosure requirement would spur debate among lawmakers and the public about the massive costs of war. 

Lewis said that the accounting is particularly important now as the Republicans are pressing for cuts in important social-safety-net programs including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, as well as government services for the unemployed, women and children. He complained that congressional leaders have tried in the past to hide the true cost of spending with budgetary gimmicks. 

"Every American has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent," Lewis said in a statement. "A variety of accounting methods are used to make it harder for Americans to comprehend how many billions, and even trillions of federal dollars are used to support these international conflicts. Meanwhile, services they may need to survive are placed on the chopping block due to the claim that our nation cannot afford them.”

Related: Trump Blows the Whistle on Boeing’s $3.2 Billion Air Force One Contract

Under the reporting requirement included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act passed by both chambers of Congress, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will help compile the defense spending information before it is posted on the IRS website. Lewis has sponsored similar amendments in the past.

Lewis said that a budget is a “statement of values,” and that the people have a right to know whether the priorities of their government meet their expectations.”

However, none of what is likely to get posted in the future addresses the fact that the Defense Department’s massive bureaucracy, which spends roughly $600 billion annually, has never been successfully audited. Last summer, as The Fiscal Times reported, an inspector general’s examination of the finances of the U.S. Army alone found misstatements and errors than ran into the trillions of dollars.

Even before assuming the reins of government Jan. 20, Trump took aim at Lockheed Martin and declared that the cost of the long-troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program “is out of control.” And he has tweeted sharp criticism of the Air Force’s contract with Boeing to build a replacement for Air Force One.

TOP READS FROM THE FISCAL TIMES