Spending Habit

Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Michael Mullen recently staged an intervention:
“By and large, we need to get off the supplementals, he stated. Stoicly. Heroically.

Supplementals, simply put, are second/alternative budgets bestowed upon each of the services to “pay” for current combat operations (not that they would ever be expected to just budget for all contingencies in the first place). These have come to be seen as a right by the services — just ask senior military and government servants. Mullen’s words probably sparked caterwauling aplenty. But it wasn’t all tough love: the Joint Chieftan couched his comment in terms of eventual defense spending cutbacks — not from the vantage that two budgets, two sets of service expenditures is no way to run a Navy.

The services have become dependent on this money to operate. Uniformed leaders have stated with panicked confidence words to the effect of, “We can’t run the war without this funding.” Each budget cycle, while the doe-eyed extort Congress for every last penny, planners lurk to exploit those dollars to, oh, maybe front-load Future Combat Systems and move up the Army’s timetable for its “Transformation” to brigade combat teams. War money. Got it.

Two sets of books. Two armies? Army of One does everything except, oh, fight wars. Army Strong contracts to fight wars. No money? No fighty! Like any smart contractor, it does not dig into company funds to carry out the terms of the contract but uses Client Bucks, or supplemental dollars. Absurd? The services have been taught to keep the war off their regular books. When queried, well-meaning leaders seem genuinely mystified that anyone would expect them to budget for combat operations with other operational and maintenance costs. Oddly, they bill as my landscaper bills his clients — charge what you need! After seven years of reprising the Sands of Iwo-Terror one would think the Money Boys would have worked out this cost thing. The probable truth is that supplementals are a windfall giving the services cash they would not have had otherwise. But it has been an addiction that is verging out of control. Spending has outpaced oversight efforts according to DoD Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter, who is also a retired Army general.
Weaning the services off their supplementals is not unlike weaning an addict from his morphine or snatching the plastic from a shopping fiend. Success, in whatever form, might be fleeting at best, and its odds are daunting.

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