NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Short On Manpower, Military Wastes Talents

September 22, 1999

Military analysts contend that all branches of the U.S. armed services too often assign valuable and technically skilled personnel to inefficient tasks. This is happening at a time when the Pentagon is frantically trying to reach recruitment goals, and often failing at the task.

Too often, also, its objectives are designed to counter a Soviet system which no longer exists. Nuclear-armed submarines, for example, roam the oceans -- poised to fight a war that they won a decade ago without ever having fired a shot.

Experts say that if the military were rebuilt from scratch today, it would look very different from what we now have -- but few agree on what it should be.

  • The U.S. still spends $275 billion a year -- including about $120 billion to pay military and civilian Pentagon personnel -- to defend itself and, increasingly, police the world.
  • Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, U.S. military forces have participated in more than 90 operations.
  • During the Clinton presidency, alone, the U.S. has fired more than 900 cruise missiles in combat -- an average of one every three days.
  • A 1998 Rand Corp. study concluded that updating technology could allow substantial reductions in personnel on aircraft carriers -- allowing the Navy to operate 15 carriers at the current cost of operating 10 to 12.

Critics cite the example of sailors being assigned to swabbing the decks and chipping paint with antiquated tools. New tools and advanced types of flooring are available which could drastically cut the time allocated to such tasks -- thereby freeing up specialists for more important work.

Recruiters often hold out the prospect of technical training in signing up soldiers and sailors -- who then become disillusioned when they are assigned to grunt work. Such practices discourage reenlistments and contribute to the present manpower shortage, experts report.

Source: Greg Jaffe and Thomas E. Ricks, "Of Men and Money, and How the Pentagon Often Wastes Both," Wall Street Journal, September 22, 1999.


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