12/09/2009 04:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Pentagon Spending: When $136 Billion is actually $301 Billion

The Pentagon says it will spend $136 billion on the men and women serving in America's military. In the excerpt below from a paper over at the Progressive Fix, I calculate that the Pentagon will actually spend $301 billion on America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines:

When President Obama signed a $680-billion military policy bill last month, he fulfilled a promise to reform defense spending, slashing more weapons systems than any president had in decades. Left to wither were big-ticket programs like the F-22 fighter jet, the Combat Search and Rescue helicopter, the Airborne Lasers, and the Future Combat Systems. Conceived during the Cold War, these systems have come under criticism for their cost overruns and irrelevance to today's unconventional conflicts.

The weapons bill represents a win for the president and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates, in particular, has made a mission of reforming Pentagon culture and breaking the grip of the military-industrial-legislative complex. But the reform of the procurement process hasn't pleased everyone. For liberals, it doesn't go far enough. Just before the November 2008 election, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) had called for an across-the-board 25-percent cut in defense spending, saying we didn't need "all these fancy new weapons." On the other side of the aisle, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) have accused Obama of "gutting"the defense budget.

It's not surprising that weapons systems draw all the attention when defense spending reform comes up. They translate into jobs that defense contractors spread cunningly across the nation's states and congressional districts. But the "guns versus butter" debates between liberals and conservatives miss a key point. It's not just weapons that drive defense spending through the roof -- it's the people, too.

According to its official budget, the Defense Department will spend $533.8 billion in 2010 in the following categories:

* Personnel: $136 billion
* Operations & Maintenance: $185.7 billion
* Weapons Procurement: $107.4 billion
* Research & Development for Weapons and Technology: $78.6 billion
* Other: $26.1 billion

The personnel figure, however, doesn't come close to capturing what America is really spending on defense personnel. According to PPI's calculations, the real price tag is much bigger: $301.1 billion each year, 121 percent higher than the Pentagon's figure. In other words, if you want major savings in defense spending, cutting weapons systems and the ever-elusive "waste, fraud and abuse" won't take you far enough.

The point here is not that our military spends too much on people. It's that personnel costs are the untold story in the defense spending debate. The U.S. military has grown 50,000 troops larger since 2001. At the same time, America has been embroiled in two counterinsurgencies that depend more on boots on the ground than planes in the sky or ships at sea.

The new emphasis on manpower-intensive counterinsurgency will have enormous repercussions on defense spending long after the wars are over. The aim of this report is to raise awareness among policy makers and the public about the real costs of U.S. military manpower.

It deconstructs the budgets of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to develop a more accurate overall measure of spending on America's war fighters across their lifetime.

You can read the whole thing at The Progressive Fix.