The Devil Is in the Details of the Pentagon's Plan

Will super-rich war-industry CEOs be able to keep bilking taxpayers out of hundreds of billions of dollars? That's the question everyone should be asking after today's announcement of the new strategic guidelines for the Pentagon. With the new guidance promising only to slow -- not reverse -- the growth of the bloated military budget, there's a real chance that these members of the richest 0.01 percent will be able to keep ripping us off.

Unless the forthcoming Pentagon budget request includes serious cuts -- far beyond the timid growth-slowing plan backed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- Americans should consider it a profit-protection scheme for major military contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman.

The document released today by the Pentagon, "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense," hints that war-profiteer CEOs will retain their massive access to the Treasury. At the very end of the document, we find this:

Finally, in adjusting our strategy and attendant force size, the Department will make every effort to maintain an adequate industrial base and our investment in science and technology. ... To that end, the Department will both encourage a culture of change and be prudent with its "seed corn," balancing reductions necessitated by resource pressures with the imperative to sustain key streams of innovation that may provide significant long-term payoffs.

Now, this all sounds reasonable until you consider Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's actions and rhetoric over the past year on this issue.

In 2011, right as the congressional deficit committee began its work, Panetta held a closed-door meeting  on Sept. 14 with the heads of the major military contractor corporations represented by the Aerospace Industries Association. (The association, by the way, declined to reveal to reporters which members of their executive board met with Panetta. AIA represents companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman. AIA Executive Director Marion Blakey did say, however, that it was "a very good meeting.") Immediately after that meeting, Panetta and the heads of these war profiteer companies hit the media circuit, echoing each other's bogus talking points on employment, the specter of a "hollow force," and the health of the industrial base if even modest cuts are made to the bloated Pentagon budget.

So what are Panetta and his war industry friends like Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens trying to protect in the current status quo? Answer: multiple, massive ripoffs of the people's money, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • "Increasingly unaffordable" (the Pentagon's own words!) service contractors who cost taxpayers $50 billion more than the cost of all uniformed personnel in 2010.
  • A cash-cow V-22 Osprey vehicle that's nowhere near as cost-effective as alternative systems -- and has a nasty habit of deadly, bad performance.
  • These items are just the tip of the iceberg in the outrageous spending being protected by Panetta and allies on and off Capitol Hill -- and all of them benefit companies whose CEOs already make enough money to rank in the richest 0.01 percent of all Americans.

    Judging by Panetta's past statements and actions, when the new Pentagon document says "adequate industrial base," we should understand him to mean "grotesquely fat and happy war industry CEOs."

    Keep an eye on the forthcoming plan from the Pentagon later this month. The devil will be in the details.

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