As the fiscal cliff approaches, pressure to cut wasteful spending at the Pentagon is growing immensely. The bipartisan push, from Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) plan to cut “Department of Defense Spending That Has Little to Do With National Security,” to Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) recommending that Congress “toss wasteful defense programs off the cliff,” and many others, has now attracted the most unlikely proponent of Pentagon spending reductions—contractors.
At a National Press Club event last Monday, attended by the Project On Government Oversight, the Chief Executive Officers (CEO) of two contractors called for cutting Pentagon spending. Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman and 2013 Chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), suggested Pentagon spending cuts in the $20 to $25 billion range over the next ten years.
David Langstaff, CEO of The Analytic Science Corporation, went even further, arguing that the Pentagon budget should be cut by around $150 billion over 10 years. Langstaff also chastised some in his industry for being “unwilling to park short-term self-interest…we need to stop pretending there’s a scenario out there that offers no defense cuts.”
In a marked reversal from the industry’s hyperbolic job-loss threats, the CEO’s also made it perfectly clear that the Pentagon is not a jobs program. When I asked the panelists to explain the industry’s poor record of job creation, Wes Bush said, “The defense industry should never be looked at as a jobs program.”
While extraordinarily unexpected, this was a welcome reversal and echoes credible studies that have found defense spending to be an inefficient way to create jobs. This was further evidenced by the AIA’s own aerospace and defense industry revenue and employment figures released last week. As Sydney Freedberg reported in AOL Defense, “The aerospace and defense sector’s estimated 3.4 percent increase in sales since 2011 dwarfs its 0.64 percent increase in employment. That undermines AIA’s oft-repeated argument that January’s automatic cuts to federal spending would endanger two million jobs, half of them from defense cuts alone.”
All of this is indicative of the growing tide of support for reining in profligate Pentagon spending. Polling shows that Americans are in favor of reductions to Pentagon spending even greater than those proposed under sequestration, which would still leave Pentagon spending at a higher level, in inflation adjusted dollars, than it was throughout most of the Cold War. Even former military leaders, such as Admiral Mike Mullen, who is heading the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, are emphasizing the need to rein in military spending.
Cutting waste at the Pentagon and strengthening our economic security will strengthen our national security. Congress can avoid sequestration’s meat-cleaver approach, and instead use a scalpel to make strategic cuts. We know where to get the savings and our plans are on the table. It’s time for Congress and the President to pick from ours or the many other menus for trimming the fat at the Pentagon.