Celebrate our mad trillion dollars in national security spending!

by Fabius Maximus

Summary: Celebrate another trillion-dollar defense budget! Much of that spending is irrelevant to the wars we are actually fighting and disproportionately large vs. the spending of our potential foes. Yet our geopolitical experts scream for “more”! While we burn money on defense our infrastructure rots. It’s the fast path to national decline. Only more public involvement in America’s politics can reform DoD. Click on the graphs to see the sources.

First, look at core military spending in 2016 (62% of total defense spending).

World Military Spending

A broader picture: the US share of world military spending

The US produces 22% of the world’s GDP and has 4% of the world’s population. But our military spending is 36% of the world’s total.

World Military Spending

Trends in core military spending

America’s direct spending on the military is below peak levels of the WOT (but the other kinds of defense spending have increased). See the following graph from “Analysis of the FY 2017 Defense Budget and Trends in Defense Spending” by Katherine Blakeley of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. OCO = Overseas Contingency Operations.

US real military spending over time

The above graphs show the size of national spending. The following graph shows the relative magnitude of each nation’s effort — as a percent of GDP.

World Military Spending Over Time

Where does the money go?

See America’s trillion-dollar National Security Budget, slightly revised from an article by Mandy Smithberger at POGO (the Project On Government Oversight). This includes all form of federal spending on national security, both domestic and foreign.

From Table 25-1 of Analytical Perspectives and Table 26-1 Budget by Agency and Account in the 2018 OMB Budget. All figures are $ billions of current dollars.

National Security Program 2017 as Enacted 2018 as Requested Comments
DoD Base Budget (Discretionary) 523.0 574.5 The “base” budget purportedly contains all routine, peacetime expenses; however, DOD and Congress have loaded tens of billions of such “base” spending into the Overseas Contingency Operations fund for declared wartime expenses. See below.
DoD Base Budget (Mandatory) 7.5 7.8 DOD often does not count this “mandatory” spending in its budget presentations to the public; however, being for military retirement and other DOD-only spending, it is as much a part of the DOD budget as military pay and acquisition.
DoD Base Budget (Total) 530.5 582.3 “Total” spending is discretionary and mandatory combined.
Overseas Contingency Operations 82.4 64.6 The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account operates as a slush fund for various pet projects for Congress and the Pentagon.
DoD Subtotal (Total) 612.9 646.9  Core military spending.
DOE/Nuclear (Total) 20.1 21.8 For nuclear weapons activities.
“Defense-Related Activities” (Total) 8.8 8.4 This spending is usually just for international FBI activities, Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile and other miscellaneous defense-related activities.
National Defense (Total) 655.1* 677.1 This is the OMB budget function “National Defense” (also known as “050”) which is sometimes confused as Pentagon-only spending. *Available information did not include all FY17 enacted.
Military Retirement Costs Not Scored to DOD 7.0 11.5 This category shows funds paid by the Treasury for military retirement programs, minus interest and contributions from the DOD military personnel budget. The data for the amounts shown here are in functions 600, 900 and 950. As DOD?unique spending they should be displayed as part of the DOD budget, but they are not by either DOD or OMB.
DOD Retiree Health Care Fund Costs -7.7 -6.7 These are net costs to the Treasury for this DOD health care program. See functions 550 900 and 950. As DOD?unique spending, they should be displayed as part of the DOD budget, but they are not either by DOD or OMB.
Veterans Affairs (Total) 177.1 183.5  This will be growing for many years.
International Affairs (Total) 54.8 41.5  International narcotics control and law enforcement; Nonproliferation, antiterrorism, demining, and related programs; Other security assistance; and Assessed contributions for international peacekeeping.
Homeland Security (Total) 51.0 49.4  This includes Customs, ICE, the Border Patrol, Secret Service, and the Coast Guard.
Shares of Interest on the Debt 108.2 112.7 Total On?Budget Federal Authorities are $4.1 trillion in 2017 and $4.3 trillion in 2018. Total gross interest paid (outlays) on Treasury debt is $474.5 billion in 2017 and 505.6 billion in 2018. The calculable shares of defense-related spending relative to the federal totals at 22.8% in 2017 and 22.3% in 2018.
National Defense (Total) 996.0 billion
1,033.0 billion

The POGO article included all International Affairs (mostly State Department) funding as for National Defense ($54.8B and $41.5B). I include only that which is directly relevant to national defense.

Mandy Smithberger

About the author and POGO

Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Founded in 1981, POGO is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. It investigates corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest. POGO originally worked to expose outrageously overpriced military spending. In 1990, after many successes reforming military spending, including a Pentagon spending freeze at the height of the Cold War, POGO decided to expand its mandate and investigate waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the federal government.

POGO is an investigative organization with an expertise for working with sources inside the government and whistle-blowers. Its staff takes leads and information from insiders and verify the information through investigations using the Freedom Of Information Act, interviews, and other fact-finding strategies. They then disseminate our findings to the media, Congress, and public interest groups through alerts, statements, studies, and journalistic reports.


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