Senate Budget chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) sharply criticized the country’s abnormally large defense budget and the “fraud” and “misconduct” of defense contractors in a hearing on Pentagon spending on Wednesday.
The Pentagon has a budget of a whopping $740 billion this year. That makes up more than half of the discretionary spending authorized by Congress. This figure would be a lot on its own, but, as Sanders pointed out in the hearing, the Department of Defense is often wasteful in its spending and often racks up cost overruns despite a staggeringly large budget.
“The time is long overdue for us to take a hard look at the enormous amount of waste and the cost overruns and fraud, and of the financial mismanagement that has plagued the Department of Defense and the military-industrial complex for decades,” said Sanders. “At a time when we have so many unmet needs in America, we’ve gotta ask ourselves why we are spending more on the military than the next 12 nations combined.”
Sanders points out that the nation’s military budget is larger than it was during the Cold War, and that the Defense Department continually fails to complete an independent audit. Indeed, the Pentagon failed its audit last year, as it has done for the past three years in a row, and many other times in the past.
In 2013, Reuters reported that Defense employees were using fake accounting numbers to balance the department’s budget, and had been for decades. Officials have said that the agency won’t be ready to pass an audit until 2027 at the earliest.
Failing to complete audits, Sanders said, is a large contributor to problems of “waste, fraud and abuse” at the agency.
Much of the nation’s defense budget goes toward defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. In fact, over half of the Pentagon’s budget goes toward these private contractors, and that spending has grown year by year; in 2020, the Pentagon awarded $445 billion of the $714 billion it spent that year to contractors. And these companies, Sanders points out, are often paying fines for fraud while profiting off of their contracts.
“Since 1995, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have paid over $5.4 billion in fines or related settlements for fraud or misconduct,” said Sanders. “Further, I find it interesting that despite the fact that the lion’s share of revenue for some of the defense contractors comes from the taxpayers of the United States, these same companies provide their CEOs and executives excessive and extremely large compensation packages.”
In 2020, Lockheed Martin paid its CEO $23 million, Sanders points out, while 95 percent of the company’s revenue was from government contracts; Raytheon’s CEO received $19.4 million, while 94 percent of the company’s revenue came from government contracts.
“These companies, for all intents and purposes, almost function as government agencies — vast majority of their revenue coming from the public — and yet their CEOs make almost 100 times more than the Secretary of State,” Sanders continued.
Many people, including Sanders, have criticized the department’s enormous budget over the years and have called for a drastic reduction in that spending. Progressives argue that more defense spending does not make us safer — rather, it is wasteful and at best, only fuels further violence.
“It is time to hold the DOD to the same level of accountability as the rest of the government,” said Sanders. “We do not need a defense budget that is bloated, that is wasteful, and that has, in too many cases, massive fraud.”