Think Tank's Radical Idea to Cut Defense Budget: Fire 'Slacker' Soldiers

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What is the best way for America to maintain its military in an era of declining spending and the sequester? A new report out of the nonpartisan Stimson Center think tank in Washington, D.C., has one surprising proposal: Get rid of all the slacker soldiers.

According to Stimson, only about 16 percent of servicemen and servicewomen in the American military today actually "fight." These are the proverbial "tip of the spear" that go into combat, and are essential to the nation's security.

But that leaves 84 percent of America's 1.2 million-man military as a potential place to trim fat, and save money.

Shooters Versus Paper-Pushers

In one sense at least, this argument seems spurious. It doesn't take a degree from West Point to realize that you need a lot of people trucking bullets from Point A if you want your shooters at Point B to have ammo to shoot with.

Similarly, it takes highly trained mechanics to keep the tanks running and the fighter jets flying. Nuclear technicians to keep the submarines and aircraft carriers from melting down -- and so on and so on. As Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly said, "An army marches on its stomach." A more modern equivalent might be "It takes a village to drop a smart bomb on a Qaida cell."

Making Cuts That Will Cause the Least Blood Loss

So in other words, even soldiers who aren't technically "fighting" are still necessary to win wars. That said, the Stimson does make a few good points.

For example, the $42 billion in defense cuts planned at the Pentagon for this year thanks to the sequester are a mere prelude to much more significant reductions in spending over the decade to come. In all, Congress looks likely to reduce defense spending by $500 billion or more over the next 10 years -- so cuts are going to come somewhere, and it's high time we figure out which cuts will cause the least blood loss.

Stimson thinks there are several places where defense spending can be rolled back with minimal harm. In all, the report outlines some $900 billion in cuts that could be made, a number equivalent to 20 percent of the projected base Defense budget over the next 10 years -- and nearly twice what Congressional cost-cutters are calling for.

Demanding "Free Return Shipping"

Roughly $500 billion of the think tank's proposed cuts fall upon gross levels of military manpower. As for the balance, they consist largely of applying market principles to military spending.

Stimson thinks $100 billion can be shaved off the defense acquisitions process, for example, by improving the efficiency of how weapons systems are bought and paid for. The paper points out that when, say, United Technologies (UTX) sells someone in private industry a faulty engine, the customer will complain, and UTC will pay to have the engine shipped back to its factory, repaired, and returned to the customer. When the U.S. Navy gets stuck with a bum engine, however, it gets stuck with the bills for repair and shipping (both ways).

The think tank also has a few choice words to say about how slowly the Pentagon moves from ordering a new weapons system to getting it developed and delivered and putting it into service -- and how it piles on new requirements (and costs) all along the way. A glance at a Defense Acquisition University flowchart of the current procedure suffices to tell you there might be some merit to the criticisms.


Correcting Compensation Inefficiencies

Stimson's final set of cost-cutting suggestions focuses on how servicepeople are compensated. Among the suggestions here are rolling back some of the multitude of "fringe benefits" -- pensions, medical care, low-cost supplies at the PX, and so on -- accorded to servicemen.

The think tank makes the observation, already accepted in the private sector, that employers and employees both do a better job of managing their money when "work" is compensated in cash rather than in kind.

Accordingly, the recommendation here is to pay higher wages to servicemen and -women, and let them decide for themselves where to buy their health care, groceries, and so on.

Will It Work?

The prospect of cutting $900 billion worth of government spending sounds appealing in principle. Still, it's hard to miss the fact that Stimson's proposals basically boil down to $8 out of every $9 saved coming out of the benefits packages and paychecks of U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, while saving only one dollar in nine by building fewer unwanted Abrams tanks and redundant fighter jet engines.

When you consider that the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen all have the right to vote, while the tanks and engines don't ... it's hard to see Stimson's suggestions passing muster in Congress.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

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THINK TANK: "Here's the deal. We will pay you more but will remove all your benefits. Will you accept." SERVICEPERSON: "OK, we'll try it." THINK TANK: "Oh, guess what? We cut your benefits but things have now changed. Money is too tight. We have to pay you the same."

May 27 2013 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Back in 1985, when I was within 3 years of retirement, I submitted a proposal to DOD suggesting a modification to military retirement benefit. The proposal was prefaced on the fact that full retirement at 50% of pay for the highest rank held during one's career was established nearly a century earlier, when most soldiers, in a much smaller military, served most of their time in remote outposts and forts under rather harsh conditions. Obviously, that is not the case now. My proposal was that elegibility for full retirement of new service members be extended to 30 years in six month annual increments. Thus, a new service member joining, say, in 1988 would have to serve 20 years, six months to qualify. One joining in 1989, 21 years and so on until the 30 year goal is reached. Servicemen completing 20 years of service, but not reaching the minimum time based on their entry year would still receive full retirement benefits, but not until reaching age 60. The proposal disappeared into a black hole somewhere in the Pentagon

May 27 2013 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

funding via foundation--
not finding A THING OUT HERE/gooooooogl_ing them
beyond the rockefellers---left supporters
mac arthur foundation--left supporters

and these spitheads ARE SHAPING NATIONAL POLICY !

May 24 2013 at 4:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

All federal jobs, state and local government should had to put everyones salary on a public website and the cost of employing that position. From if they get a company vehicle to insurance and retirement benefits. Every lucrative deal made with private industry should be published unless it is a matter of national security. If General Joe gets a new suburban every year a chaufer and a security detail this should be published. If senator Joe gets ex amount for travel expenses ... this should be published. Wont take long you will have plenty of ideas on how to save trillions. Why does the government have to pay double what I pay for a bullet? Why does the local vet charge twice as much when the city or county brings in their drug / bomb dog when they know the "government" is footing the bill? Because ripping the government has become a standard practice, from i t companies down to toilet paper manufacturers......

May 24 2013 at 3:49 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

very good SOURCE for their funding

May 24 2013 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

About Stimson

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The Stimson Center is a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank that seeks pragmatic solutions for some of the most important peace and security challenges around the world. Stimson's analysts, who travel around the globe for their research, make the Center a trusted source of expert knowledge, fresh perspectives, policy evaluations and new ideas.

Through rigorous in-depth analysis driven by facts rather than ideology, Stimson focuses on:

Strengthening institutions for international peace and security.
Building regional security.
Reducing weapons of mass destruction and transnational threats.

By engaging policymakers, policy implementers and nongovernmental institutions as well as other experts, Stimson is able to craft recommendations that cut across political party lines and are actionable and effective.

Founded in 1989 by Barry Blechman and Michael Krepon, who are now distinguished fellows at the Center, Stimson is currently led by Chairman of the Board Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr. and President and CEO Ellen Laipson. Bloomfield has held foreign policy and national security positions at the Defense Department, State Department and White House. Laipson joined Stimson in 2002 after federal service at the National Intelligence Council, U.S. mission to the U.N., National Security Council, State Department and Congressional Research Service.

May 24 2013 at 3:42 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to setanta54s_back's comment

think this tank of dipstiX goes to pakeestan ? china ? north kOreeUH ?

didn't think so either....
have to go and follow their "foundations" that donate to them.


mygawd,yet another phone call to the elected whoredom to TELL THEM TO CUT THESE BS ARTISTS LOOSE.

May 24 2013 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fire the wankers of con_gress FIRST.

then go through every bleeedin agency and clean them OUT as well.

then every city/municipality ELIMINATES duplicate agencies and employees.

and NO UNEMPLOYMENT for these parasites either.
no SSD the same.

let them all go "canning" and get their nickels.

May 24 2013 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Saving money? I wonder how that works when the soldiers guarding the convoys during the Iraq war were paid far less then the drivers of the privately outsourced trucks?

I guess that is because you can send a member of the armed forces into a war zone, and they have no choice. But you have to recruit a person to put their life on the line in a private industry job situation. And you have to pay them more.

That is why being a war contractors are such a lucrative area to make money.

But there is a lot of money to be saved in procurement, and not wasting money of fancy toys that never really work. But then that is a jobs programs for Congress, and they want not only to fund it, but have some of the work done in their States and districts.

But the idea that the United States quits picking up the slack for nations that invest in their own countries rather then invest in security would yield greater savings.

Europe cuts back on defense spending, invests in their own people and countries, while the US madly spends on the military, neglecting their people and infrastructure.

May 24 2013 at 2:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to franzr00's comment

and exactly WHAT DEFENSE SPENDING are the euro_nils responsible FOR ????

May 24 2013 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply