Budget trims shouldn’t happen only in emergencies

We hope President Bush’s recent signing of a long delayed $94.5 billion military supplemental spending bill relieves the cash crunch that led to a hiring freeze at many military facilities. But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, end efforts by the Pentagon to pinch pennies, because every military dollar spent in superfluous or wasteful ways is one dollar that isn’t going to fighting and winning the global war on terror.

The war on wasteful government spending must be relentless, not just cranked up when funds run short because an emergency supplemental bill hasn’t passed. But the desire to squeeze redundancy, inefficiency and waste out of the bloated federal government, once a cornerstone of the Republican Party’s agenda, seems to have all but vanished since the GOP became the ruling party and got its hands on the federal purse strings.

Several weeks back, for instance, when the cash crunch was on, we began seeing a flurry of news stories about how the Pentagon was cutting costs, making us wonder why this isn’t an ongoing effort, rather than one that only seems to come under fiscal duress. We read at the time, for instance, about how the various branches were taking a hard look at spending on travel and conferences, which has ballooned in recent years.

CongressDaily at the time reported Army brass had canceled plans to attend a military conference in London, while noting that travel spending overall continues on an upward trend, with many military personnel still enjoying junkets to places like Las Vegas and Hawaii.

In response to questions from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the few members of Congress who still serve as anti-waste warriors, the department revealed that it spent $79.3 million last year on conference travel alone, compared to the $62.3 million the department spent on conference travel five years ago.

And not all the meetings seem to be of vital national security interest. The story noted, for instance, that “last year’s round of meetings included the Armed Forces Golf Conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Armed Forces Bowling Training and Trade Show in Las Vegas and the Armed Forces Bowling Conference in Orlando.”

A Coburn spokesman said that while the senator was “sympathetic” to the military’s eagerness to get a supplemental approved, he highlighted the travel issue to point out that services “can obviously cut back on some spending.”

Now, we’re sure that some of these conferences are worthwhile. And we also understand that no one plans an event for Dubuque, Iowa, in the middle of January. But this is just the sort of expenditure that should be reined in, not only when the Pentagon’s cookie jar comes up empty, but all the time, in recognition that a war footing means also making war on every bit of spending that is draining resources away from the troops in the field.