Research: Publications

Going for Broke: The Budgetary Consequences of Current US Defense Strategy

October 25, 2011 | Policy Brief

By Carl Conetta

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The sharp rise in the Pentagon's base budget since 1998 (46% in real terms) is substantially due to strategic choice, not security requirements, per se. It reflects a refusal to set priorities as well as a move away from the traditional goals of military deterrence, containment, and defense to more ambitious ends: threat prevention, command of the commons, and the transformation of the global security environment. The geographic scope of routine US military activity also has expanded.

The effort to do more with a smaller military has led to a substantial growth in the pool of contract labor, driving up Operations and Maintenance (O&M) costs across the 1986-2010 period. In 2010, O&M costs per full-time person in uniform were 74% higher than in 1986, in real terms. The Pentagon's labor pool -- military, civilian DoD, and contractor -- is probably only 10%-20% smaller today than in 1986. The Government Accountability Office reports service estimates of more than 766,000 contractors -- perhaps much more. Estimates of contractor costs to DoD range between $150 billion and $200 billion per year.

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