Of all the industries in line for a handout in this financially frightening time, the defense industry would seem to bring up the rear. After all, most defense companies saw their profits spike as the U.S. defense budget reached historic heights in recent years. Yet the economic crisis has apparently renewed some people’s concept of the Defense Department as a giant jobs program. This argument recently found a venerated voice in Martin Feldstein, a former Reagan administration economist now serving on president-elect Barack Obama’s economic team. In a Wall Street Journal editorial published on Christmas Eve, Feldstein argues that plowing an extra $30 billion into DOD would produce 300,000 jobs. With all due respect to Dr. Feldstein, his reasons do not reflect the well-documented realities of the Pentagon budget.
Feldstein recommends a “short-term surge” of at least $30 billion per year in 2009 and 2010, followed by a sharp dropoff. About $20 billion would go to procurement and research and $10 billion to operations, presumably to support the thousands of troops he also wants to add. But everyone knows money at the Pentagon moves more like molasses than a surging river. Severe increases in the cost and schedule of major weapons systems has been amply documented by DOD itself. Embedding expensive weapons in the DOD budget by overestimaing budgets and lowballing costs and production schedules has resulted in less military for more money, a problem detailed in the new Center for Defense Information book America’s Defense Meltdown. And more troops means billions of dollars in support costs for decades to come.