ICYMI, the federal government is targeting 9,700 veterans and others who took sizable bonuses to stay in the military. The bonuses were given during the Bush years, in the California Guard, but massive fraud and mismanagement have been discovered since. Erick covered the issue — originally reported by the Los Angeles Times on Saturday — earlier in the week, but here are a few things to consider about this bureaucratic debacle.
First, some basic numbers: The Times reported yesterday evening that the total in bonuses was $70 million. The paper also reports that 9,700 servicemembers were given bonuses. That equals $7,216.49 per veteran, on average (though for many, the bonuses were much larger — $15,000 or more).
Second, while that’s a lot of money per soldier, it’s a tiny portion of the Pentagon’s budget. In Fiscal Year 2016, the Pentagon’s budget was $586 billion. That $70 million is .012% of the Pentagon’s budget. Compare that to billions in contract overruns and other indications of incompetence and criminality in our vaunted DoD.
Third, the Times reports that while Members of Congress are throwing around angry words about this mess, President Barack Obama has yet to order the Pentagon to end its recoupment efforts. Hopefully, he’ll do so, especially since it was those giving the bonuses that did wrong, not those receiving them. So far, though, the Department of Justice is trying to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought some who got bonuses.
Fourth, there were over $135 billion lost to improper payments in 2015 alone. Medicaid’s reported increase of improper payments that year was $12 billion. The feds are flush enough to spend money $43 million on a gas station in Afghanistan, and to ignore $87 billion in better management practices, but they’ve got to put the screws to veterans?
Finally, while it’s no surprise that the federal budget leaks like a sieve, it’s also important to note that the feds are targeting people who served our country. They took the bonuses on good faith, and served in the military longer than perhaps they otherwise would have. The Obama administration would be better off shifting its resources to going after those who defraud the government on purpose, who are trying to hide their illegal and unethical behavior. Fraud is often difficult and expensive to track and recoup, so whatever money is being spent making veterans’ lives miserable should be going to making actual criminals pay for their wrongdoing — not honest and well-intentioned members of the military.