|Decoding the Defense Budget|
| I am told the the Pentagon will roll out of its 2012 budget at 2:00 on Monday. This annual event has assumed almost ritual characteristics. The press will record the top line amounts from the Pentagon's press release, with and without the funding for Afghanistan and other foreign operations, and tabulate how much is being sought for what are thought to be the most newsworthy accounts, such as the Procurement account. Questions at the "presser" are sure to focus on specific programs (such as the F-35 and its engines) and on this year's particular budget issues, such as the imbroglio over the 2011 budget and the "catastrophic" possibility that the defense budget may grow only insufficiently above its current post-World War II high. As has been the case for several years, Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg News has already scooped the event with advanced notification to us of some of the major details. |
I hope I am wrong, but there is a litany of questions that will not be asked. They are not policy- or politically-driven questions; they are informational, and they are straightforward. Without them, we will only know what the Pentagon is telling us, which is quite incomplete.
Some points -
The new handbook-guide to the Defense Department, The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It, contains various essays to help both seasoned and new defense analysts and journalists cope with extracting information out of the Pentagon and understanding it. One of those essays, "Decoding the Defense Budget" addresses the incomplete nature of the Pentagon's release of its own budget data and other problems in the Pentagon's often misleading version of its own defense costs.
The material below is an excerpt from that essay. Hopefully, it will help people probe and understand the material that the Pentagon releases on Monday and -more importantly - the material the Pentagon does not release.
The rest of this essay is available on request; the entire text of The Pentagon Labyrinth will be officially released on Monday at two separate Web sites.
The excerpt from "Decoding the Defense Budget" follows.
What Is the Defense Budget?
by Winslow T. Wheeler
Each year in early February, the Pentagon releases what is invariably called the "defense budget" in press articles. The numbers presented do not address all forms of defense spending; they do not even address all forms of Pentagon spending.
For example, a table included in the Pentagon's press materials for the 2011 budget shows the "base" (non-Iraq or -Afghanistan war) budget request at $549.8 billion. The materials presented by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are more complete. The 2011 budget request for "base" (non-war) Pentagon spending was $554.1 billion. The additional $4.3 billion was for "mandatory" spending (also known as "entitlement" spending) mostly for personnel programs. The number the Pentagon released was for the "discretionary" (new annual appropriations) spending. The difference may be a minor one in this case, but it can be significant; in past years Congress has added scores of billions in new mandatory spending for military healthcare, and retirement and survivors' benefits.
The more complete exposition of DOD budgets in the OMB materials is not easy to find; it is usually buried in the "Supplemental Materials" to a volume called "Analytical Perspectives" that is released each year the same day the Pentagon releases its version of its budget. Unfortunately, the DOD press corps roundly ignores the more complete OMB materials. To be better informed in future years, track it down.
The same OMB table yields other important information: the additional DOD spending requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not just for the budget year but also for succeeding "out-years," and the non-DOD spending for what OMB calls the "National Defense Budget Function," which includes nuclear weapons, the Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile of minerals and commodities, and more. The total for 2011 comes to $738.7 billion in "total" (discretionary plus mandatory) spending.
The same table also yields the budget amounts for the departments of Homeland (domestic) Security, State (for economic and weapons aid and other national security programs) and Veterans Affairs (for what might be called the human cost of wars). Each is clearly related to national security or "defense," writ broadly. Finally, if you know where to look near the bottom of this long OMB table, you can find some additional spending in the Treasury Department for military retirement and healthcare, and finally the data needed to make a calculation of how much of the 2011 payment for interest on the national debt can fairly be attributed to the Pentagon.
The results of this more complete compilation of the president's 2011 budget request for "defense" is summarized in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Defense Related Budget Requests for 2011.
The next time someone tries to tell you that the numbers DOD throws at you in its press releases are what you should use to understand monies spent for national security, give him a polite smile; then, go to that obscure table in the Supplementary Materials in OMB's "Analytical Perspectives." It is published online the same day as the Pentagon press release. A few minutes of checking can give you a more complete understanding than what the press will report.
 See page 8 of the material presented to the press on Feb. 1, 2010 purporting to describe the request for the 2011 DOD budget at http://www.defense.gov/news/FINAL%20PRESS%20RELEASE%20v3%20%201.pdf.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Posted by Michele Kearney at 2:22 PM