How is defense spending helping your coal miner, Mulvaney?

Mick Mulvaney, why do you have no problem asking a public servant in Maine, to give you my money so that you can spend an additional $54 billion on a defense budget that can’t prove is helping anybody?”

There is a disproportionate emphasis on results when it comes to social policy and program spending compared to criminal justice and defense spending which operates with very little transparency, oversight and continues to measure activities rather than outcomes and Mulvaney’s proposed budget and ill-informed commentary are perpetuating this policy flaw.

Social impact metrics are a serious business. Public administration and nonprofit agencies spend lots of time, money and expertise planning for results and attempting to measure the impact of their services and policies. The federal, state and local governments collect data that is regularly monitored and audited. Our entire education system here is designed around measuring the outcomes achieved by teachers and students through the No Child Left Behind Act, at federal level, and the Common Core, at state level.  This emphasis on benchmarks and monitoring is why the New York times was able to fact check (and correct) Mulvaney’s claims about poor outcomes associated with specific programs so easily this weekend.

I welcome any government’s commitment to results-based policy planning and spending but not when it is unfairly used to create the assumption that programs that are then allocated additional funding do so because they achieve better results and are hence fair to the ‘single mother in Detroit’.

So when Mulvaney proposed a $54 billion increase in the Pentagon’s budget did he justify this increase by assuring us tax payers that the Pentagon gets a real bang for the buck when it comes to results? No, he used inaccurate claims to make the assertion that arts programming, the State department and HUD are not ‘compassionate’ budgetary choices to ask tax payers to make. The government, academia, and media generally perpetuate this assumption that U.S. military spending is required to increase our security. Since no one justifies the spending in terms of planned results and impacts (be it fewer terrorist attacks, reduced loss of life in conflicts, increased sense of safety that results better health outcomes for Americans)  it seems safe to assume there must be enough research to justify military spending as a matter of principle.  Wrong again. The U.S. alone spends more than the next seven big spenders combined, yet we are told our security risks are greater than ever.  Clearly measuring the results of military spending are complicated and difficult due to a combination of factors but this doesn’t justify the lack of oversight or accountability in comparison to other publicly funded programs.  Measuring the results of public health campaigns tackling the diabetes epidemic is no easier and no less critical to the well-being of our nation.

Defense, security and military spending is complex and integral to national security but it’s not the only government spending that isn’t subject to the same oversight and accountability measures as our social services.  APM Reports spent a year investigating how and when our criminal justice agencies are held accountable for major failings when they fail to solve crime. The investigation discovered that these failures are rarely held accountable by anyone because the federal government doesn’t require the vast array of law enforcement agencies to report their clearance rates or other benchmarks nationally. Agencies do use benchmarking but it’s voluntary is not linked to federal budgets so our famous coal miner from West Virginia could live in a town that hasn’t had a single crime solved in decades and the government won’t do anything.

Am I saying that all money spend on law enforcement and national security is a waste of money and has achieved nothing? No, of course not. I’m saying that we don’t know whether defense spending makes us more secure and our federal government and elected officials should be held to the same standards when they spend our money on education or the military. Mulvaney’s proposed budget and rhetoric about wasted money and compassionate spending reinforces the flawed policies that allow defense spending to trump (no pun intended) other measures that can improve our security as a nation.

U.S. President Eisenhower urged caution in arms spending that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” He believed that military budgets spent the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children and so I urge our lawmakers today to apply the same examination of benchmarks and results used for social policy programs to any proposed budget increase.