Steve Kosiak is the Vice President for Budget Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He recently discussed the financial costs of the war at an event at the Center for American Progress. While he was here, he sat down with us to talk more about the cost of resetting the military, the contents of supplemental budget requests, and the Pentagon’s responsibility to the public.
Listen to the interview:
CAP: What are military reset costs and are they being adequately funded?
Steve Kosiak: Well, the military has to recover from Iraq and Afghanistan once we get out of there, or reduce our operations there. Altogether, so far the Army’s been provided about $100 billion dollars for reset and for procuring new weapons systems. That appears to be roughly adequate for covering the cost of wear and tear, and replacing and buying new equipment.
CAP: What are the implications of the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the future of the military?
SK: Well, the Army and the other services have provided a lot of money in recent years to pay for operations and also to help reset the military once the war is over, but it’s going to take some number of years for a couple of reasons.
One is there’s a limited ability to get new equipment out of overhaul and into the back end of the field or off the assembly line and out into the field. No matter how much money you put into it, that’s going to take some time, probably at least several years after we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, or reduce our presence there.
Also there are military personnel-related issues. The Army in particular has had a much tougher time in the last couple of years recruiting quality personnel. They’ve had some retention issues as well, although overall retention has been better than recruitment. But many people in the military stay for 20 years. This potentially could take a long, long time to work through the system and get back to where we’d like to be in terms of personnel quality.
CAP: You’ve talked before about how the Defense Department’s budget conflates long-term rebuilding and research costs and short-term operational costs. Where should the Defense Department be spending its money to be prepared for the future and make the most cost-effective investments?
SK: I think we need to think about what our missions are, related both to Iraq and Afghanistan, but also other missions. Potentially a peer competitor like China that you might want to guard against at least, and other rogue states like North Korea and Iran. What is our policy? What are our plans for these kinds of potential contingencies? And to look at what we’re currently buying or projected to buy, and see are those really consistent with those missions. We’re buying some equipment now that doesn’t appear to have a whole lot to do with either fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or helping us guard against some potential long-term threats, such as a rising China.
So I think we need to—the next administration will have to—take a good hard look at a lot of new weapons programs and see if they really fit in with their notion of where our security requirements lie in the future.
CAP: Supplemental budget requests for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. How much of that money actually goes to war funding?
SK: Well the vast majority of funding that’s in the supplemental request is going to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Things like paying for activating reserve personnel who are sent over there, special pay related to being in combat areas, sustaining the troops over there, repairing and replacing equipment that’s damaged or destroyed in those operations.
The bulk of the money in these emergency supplementals is going to those kinds of operations. But there is a not insignificant chunk of money, especially in the last couple supplementals, that appears to be more geared toward long-term force structural readiness and modernization requirements of the services. And that’s stuff that, whatever the merits of those programs and activities, probably really belongs in the base budget, the regular budget of the Department of Defense, not in these, what are supposed to be emergency supplementals.
CAP: What responsibility does the government have to the public to provide accurate information about where the Defense Department budget and supplemental requests are actually being spent?
SK: Well I think it’s very important that you have as good an accounting as you can of what the money in any government agency is going toward. In the case of the Department of Defense, you want to know how much money is actually going toward these military operations, supporting those operations, and how much is going toward other requirements, long-term force structure requirements, modernization requirements, transformation requirements.
I think that the Pentagon needs to do a better job of separating out the money that is going for the war and the money that is not going for the war, that’s going for other operations, because these are two very different animals in some ways. And whatever one thinks about funding for the wars, you may want to judge the base budget more on its merits. The base budget covers all kinds of things that are unrelated to the war as well so I think it’s important to have that distinction.