On this day in 1941, the Senate by unanimous consent created a special investigative committee charged with stamping out waste, corruption and profiteering in the U.S. defense industry, which had moved into high gear as World War II swept across Europe.
Harry Truman, a Missouri Democrat, was chosen by the Senate as chairman of the committee. Truman conceived the idea for the panel soon after completing a 10,000-mile inspection tour of military bases. During his trip, Truman found repeated instances of contractors being paid set fees regardless of performance and that certain firms were receiving more than their fair share of contracts.
Senior military officials voiced their opposition to President Franklin Roosevelt. Reaching back in history, they cited the problems caused during the Civil War by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.
Capitol Hill leaders, however, convinced Roosevelt that Truman was a reliable sort and, moreover, could not do too much damage with a committee budget of $15,000.
Under Truman’s tenure, the committee beat expectations. Its members held hundreds of hearings and saved taxpayers millions of dollars. Truman developed experience with business, labor, agriculture and executive branch agencies, and his widely praised work helped him overcome an image as a machine-bossed political hack.
Military contractors are among the worst performing of government contractors. Other departments don’t have the funds to mismanage their contracts to private companies at the scale the Pentagon continually flubs its projects.
Consider the second jet engine for the F-35, which is completely unnecessary but has shown a resilience to being eliminated despite its uselessness. There is also the recent contract of Boeing’s refueling air tanker, which won despite its lower evaluation score than EADS. There’s the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that faced huge cost overruns, and now, several years into its development and billions of tax dollars later, has been scrapped.
What’s even more uncomfortable when thinking about the military industrial complex is that we are currently spending twice as much on military defense than we did during the Cold War, when we were facing a comparatively large and well-armed nation. What is the justification for these weapon systems now? We have let defense procurement run rampant like an alien species choking out native ecosystems.
What is especially infuriating about the Republicans budget proposals, both in the governorships and in the House, is that they’re willing to cut millions in small programs that benefit the poor and vulnerable such as Head Start, Planned Parenthood, and education in the name of fiscal responsibility, at completely ineffective declines in rate of spending. Yet Republicans aren’t willing to seriously engage the Pentagon to cut fat in the only area of discretionary spending where it would be effective to do so.
I truly wish we had the level of political leadership we had in the 40s and 50s today.