See the real US defense budget: $1.5 trillion

Summary: The Department of Defense uses obscure accounting to conceal its true cost from America’s citizens, assisted by the mainstream press. Long-time DoD expert Winslow Wheeler shows the real cost for our War Department. Like all debunking of our mad military industrial complex since President Eisenhower warned us in 1961, he has been ignored.

The US National Security Budget for 2023/24 is …
approximately $1.5 Trillion

By Winslow Wheeler

Several years ago I started composing an annual table displaying all known DOD costs in budget presentations, plus additional national security related costs in the Departments of Energy, VA, State and Homeland Security. A proportionate share of these costs in federal debt interest payments have also been added.

While in the past, others picked up my previous practice (sometimes with modifications), I have seen no such table for President Biden’s FY 2024 request, and for what was actually made available for FY 2023. Misinformation I have seen spreading on what is and is not in the “defense” budget prompted me to resume putting this table together. See below and attached. The main source is OMB’s presentation materials for the 2024 budget request.

The column labelled “Comments” offers descriptions of just what monies are included, or not, in each category plus some discussion of past and present gimmicks used to manipulate the public’s perception of the “defense” (or “national security”) budget, which goes well beyond just the Department of Defense.

If you take objection to categories I have included, simply take them out and derive your own grand total. Hopefully you will explain your deletion. If you are aware of additional costs that you believe I should have included, please post what you have found in the comments.

Total US National Security Spending, 2023-2024.
In $billions; Then-Year dollars, budget authority.
Sources: OMB Table 24-1 from Analytical Perspectives and the DHS “FY 2024 Budget in Brief.”

National Security Program

2023 as Enacted

2024 as Requested

Comments
DOD Budget (Discretionary Appropriations)

848.8

842.0

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) gave rise to several gimmicks to escape budget controls and to manipulate public perception.  Among those was the use of the term “base budget,” which purportedly contained all routine, peacetime expenses while excluding war related “emergency” costs.  DOD and Congress loaded tens of billions of such “base” spending into the emergency Overseas Contingency Operations fund for ostensibly declared wartime expenses. The “emergency” OCO spending designation was convenient as it overruled the budget ceilings of the BCA.  The BCA has now expired altogether, and misuse of the term “base budget” to lower apparent, but not real, spending levels has diminished.

This category includes spending for the US intelligence community, including DIA, CIA, NSA and several others, but not including any intelligence functions in the State Department, Coast Guard or DHS, which are included below.

The 2023 column includes large amounts of aid to Ukraine; additional requests for Ukraine in 2024 will be in supplementals not yet included in this table.

Do not confuse this amount with DOD Appropriations bills as some frequently do; those bill do not include Military Construction and  – sometimes – other DOD costs.

DOD  Budget (Mandatory)

11.4

21.5

DOD and the press often do not count this “mandatory” spending, mostly for concurrent receipt retirement costs, in budget presentations; this exclusion results in an understatement of DOD expenses.
DOD Budget (Total)

860.2

863.5

“Total” spending is discretionary and mandatory combined. This total constitutes budget subfunction 051 in its entirety. Many in Congress have declared their intend to increase this total. Given recent history, they are likely to succeed.
Supplementals Included above. To come. Additional requests for Ukraine, weather damage to military bases and other DOD expenses that are actually unforeseen will be added during the upcoming calendar year.
DOE/Nuclear

Discretionary

Mandatory

Total

 

31.6

2.2

33.8

 

32.8

3.0

35.8

For nuclear weapons activities.
 

Discretionary

Mandatory

Total

 

11.0

0.6

11.6

 

11.5

0.6

12.1

“Defense-related activities”

This spending is for international FBI activities, the Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile and other miscellaneous defense activities.

National Defense (Total)

905.5

910.8

This is the Total 050 “National Defense” budget function. It is sometimes confused as Pentagon-only spending. This spending generally equates with the money authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
 

DOD Contribution

Trust Fund Interest

Net Result

 

74.2

-39.5

-68.8

 -34.1

 

78.2

-45.6

-51.7

-19.1

Additional Military Retirement Costs

This category shows additional Treasury payments for military retirement.  Deducted are interest earned by the Military Retirement Trust Fund and contributions from the DOD military personnel budget. The data for the amounts shown here are in subfunctions 602, 902 and 950. As DOD-unique spending they should be displayed as part of the DOD budget, but are not. The calculation does not always result in a negative number.

 

Treasury cost

DoD transfer

Net Result

 

12.2

-10.0

   2.2

 

13.1

-10.9

   2.2

DOD Retiree Health Care Fund

Shown are costs to the Treasury for the DOD health care program in subfunction 551 and offsetting transfers from DOD in subfunction 950. As DOD-unique spending, they should be displayed as part of the DOD budget.

Net Total DOD-related Spending

873.7

893.9

This sum nets out the National Defense function total with the alterations shown for military retirement and DOD Retiree Health Care.
Non-DOD National Security costs are shown below.
Veterans Affairs (Total)

303.9

320.8

These function 700 costs have increased significantly over the past decade because of the veterans’ costs from the wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places in the Global War On Terror (GWOT). Current expenses greatly exceed the estimates made for them a decade ago.
International Affairs (Total)

42.8

46.4

Including overall budget function 150 costs for the State Department argues they are all national security costs.
Homeland Security (Total)

101.6

103.2

DHS budgets are complex; CRS has an analysis of the 2024 request at  https://sgp.fas.org/crs/homesec/R47496.pdf. Displayed data are from DHS FY 2024 Budget in Brief (BIB) and are not show in OMB Table 24-1. DHS budget materials did not readily identify costs for homeland security from DOD, State and the VA; this contrasts to past DHS budget presentations. This row might include an unknown amount of double counting.  DHS has been asked to explain; no reply has been received.
National Security share of Interest on the Debt

125.7

146.0

Total On-Budget Federal Outlays are estimated at $6.4 trillion in 2023 and $6.9 trillion in 2024.Total gross interest paid for Treasury debt is $897.7 billion in 2023 and $1006.9 billion estimated for 2024. The calculable share of national security spending relative to total federal spending is 14% for 2023 and 14.5% 2024.
Grand Total

1,447.7

1,510.3

 

—————————————————-

Putting US military spending in a global context

Spending by the US and its allies dwards that of every likely foe, combined. Perhaps our frequent bouts of hysterical fear are unwarranted.

About the author

Winslow T. Wheeler was Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) in Washington, D.C. He retired in 2016.

From 1971 to 2002, Wheeler worked on national security issues for members of the U.S. Senate and for the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). He was the first, and according to Senate records the last, Senate staffer to work simultaneously on the personal staffs of a Republican and a Democrat (Pryor and Kassebaum).

In the Senate staff, Wheeler was involved in legislation concerning the War Powers Act, Pentagon reform, foreign policy, and oversight of the defense budget/programs. At GAO he directed comprehensive studies on the 1991 Gulf War air campaign, the US strategic nuclear triad, and weapons testing. Each of these studies found prevailing conventional wisdom about weapons to be badly misinformed.

In 2002 when he worked on the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee, Wheeler authored an essay, under the pseudonym “Spartacus,” addressing Congress’ reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (“Mr. Smith Is Dead: No One Stands in the Way as Congress Lards Post-September 11 Defense Bills with Pork“). When senators criticized in the essay attempted to have Wheeler fired, he resigned his position.

He has authored two books:  The Wastrels of Defense (2004) about Congress and national security, and Military Reform (2007).  He was the Editor of America’s Defense Meltdown (2009).  He also edited of two anthologies, The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It (2011, see below) and America’s Defense Meltdown: Military Reform for President Obama and the New Congress (2009).

He appears in interviews on national TV and radio and has written articles and commentaries for national, local, and professional publications. These venues include “60 Minutes,” C-SPAN’s “Book Notes” and “Q & A,” National Public Radio, the PBS News Hour, the Washington Post, Politico, Mother Jones, Barron’s, Defense News, and Armed Forces Journal.

Click here for more information about the Straus Military Reform Project.

A few articles by Winslow Wheeler at POGO:

  1. The Myth of American Military Superiority, 13 October 2012
  2. Budget and Hardware Myths, Part II, 1 October 2012
  3. Budget and Hardware Myths, Part I, 1 October 2012
  4. Sequester: Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be, 16 August 2012
  5. Common Defense Quarterly Article on Drones, 15 June 2012
  6. Think-Tanked: Old Wine in Dark Bottles, 13 June 2012
  7. A Peek at Pentagon Pork: A Taxpayers’ Guide, 29 May 2012
  8. The Jet That Ate The Pentagon, 2 May 2012

For More Information

Other posts by Winslow Wheeler:

  1. Another step in America’s Defense Meltdown, 30 July 2009.
  2. The ultimate 21st Century cage match: Titanic Government vs. the National Security Iceberg, 20 December 2012.
  3. Do you know how DoD will spend a trillion dollars this year?, 14 March 2014.

Posts about military spending:

  1. The foundation of America’s empire: our chain of bases around the world, 8 September 2008.
  2. Dragging American Military Culture into the 21st Century, 13 August 2010.
  3. Important new articles about reforming our military, a key to balancing the Federal budget, 29 April 2011.
  4. Reconfiguring the US military for life after The Long War, 27 September 2011 — By Doug Macgregor.
  5. Profits in the New America: lobbyists drill for public money, 13 March 2013.
  6. DoD is flush with cash, but running empty of ideas — By Chuck Spinney.
  7. Martin van Creveld looks at our military white elephants.
  8. While America’s infrastructure rots, we build the most expensive weapon ever.
  9. Celebrate our mad trillion dollars in national security spending!, 28 May 2017.

A great book about our mad military spending.

The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It
Available at Amazon.

From the pubisher…

“The Pentagon Labyrinth aims to help both newcomers and seasoned observers learn how to grapple with the problems of national defense. Intended for readers who are frustrated with the superficial nature of the debate on national security, this handbook takes advantage of the insights of ten unique professionals, each with decades of experience in the armed services, the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress, the intelligence community, military history, journalism and other disciplines.

“The short but provocative essays will help you to identify the decay moral, mental and physical in America’s defenses; understand the various tribes that run bureaucratic life in the Pentagon; appreciate what too many defense journalists are not doing, but should; conduct first rate national security oversight instead of second rate theater; separate careerists from ethical professionals in senior military and civilian ranks; learn to critique strategies, distinguishing the useful from the agenda-driven; recognize the pervasive influence of money in defense decision-making; unravel the budget games the Pentagon and Congress love to play; understand how to sort good weapons from bad and avoid high cost failures, and; reform the failed defense procurement system without changing a single law.

“The handbook ends with lists of contacts, readings and Web sites carefully selected to facilitate further understanding of the above, and more.”

8 thoughts on “See the real US defense budget: $1.5 trillion”

  1. It should be clear by now that the headline GDP number doesn’t mean jack shit. When you total up all the aid sent to Ukraine it dwarfs Russian military spending. And yet, this so-called gas station is kicking our ass!

    The basis of Western economies is fake, and we need to come to terms with that.

    1. GDP is like all economic metrics, a specific measure.

      It is a high-level measure, unlike auto production, which means it is fairly abstract.

      That’s the nature of measurements. Get used to it.

      Your height is a precise number, but tells us little about you. Your SAT score is a precise number, but it is unclear what it measures. We’d love to know your moral worth, but lack useful and reliable metrics.

      Don’t ask more of numbers than they can give. Learn to use them.

      1. longtrail010

        It’s good to see you posting again. I have been following Ian on readingjunkie.com and Caitlin Johnstone ever since you went silent.

      2. Roland Nelson

        Fabius

        Your comment about measurements, a bit long for a tweet, is a phenomenal record of thought. Every student in the world should be made aware of it.

        The innumeratti (the masses that drive the worlds who however are innumerate) rule the world and yet they think numbers are magic. If only everyone could be made aware measurements only, at best, measure the dimension they promise.
        Roland

  2. longtrail010

    I have also found a great site by Andrei Martyanov and Randolorian comments on both.

    Hi Randolorian!

  3. longtrail010

    I’ve also found another great site run by Andrei Martyanov. I see Randolorian at readingjunkie.com and Andrei’s site too.

    Hi Randolorian!

  4. longtrail010

    Oops. Sorry about the double post.

    I’ve read Winslow Wheeler when you were active and he’s very good at describing the MICC, Military Industrial Congressional Complex. Our arms producers design weapons to line pockets instead of winning. Russia has done the latter. They have Hypersonic Maneuverable Missiles and we can’t even make supersonic cruise missiles.

  5. longtrail010

    All our nation has done since 1945 is offensive operations, bullying and sanctions that have killed millions and displacing millions more. It seems we took up where the Nazis left off. Apparently all the Nazis we imported after the war had a profound influence on us and NATO nations. It has caused us to bankrupt ourselves. We have no industrial power. We design weapons to line pockets instead of winning. We have lost the goodwill of the world. We’ve lost our Moral High Ground.

    We should have assumed a Defensive Posture which is much less expensive. We should have had a mix of nuclear and and SSK’s. Aircraft Carriers are obsolete as the Battleships of yore.

    We can’t meet recruiting goals and in desperation have resorted to Recruiting Campaigns featuring Drag Queens. Suicide among active duty and veterans is rampant.

    Even Ian had an existential crisis that landed him in a psyche ward. I’ve been there too.

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