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Here's What America Really Spends on Security

Christopher Hellman

Back in February 2006, the Bush administration requested, and Congress later approved, roughly $463 billion in funding for the Defense Department. But when it comes to what American taxpayers really spend on national security, this is just the tip of the iceberg. All told, the United States spent nearly $1 trillion on security in fiscal year 2007, which ended on September 30.

In addition to the money allocated to the Pentagon each year as part of the Defense Department's "base budget," hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on other federal programs that are a direct result of the United States supporting and maintaining its military.

For example, the United States spent $173 billion last year on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other costs the Pentagon says are related to the "Global War on Terror." According to the Congressional Research Service, $166 billion went to the Pentagon, $6 billion went to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and $1 billion went to the Veterans' Administration. So far this year, the White House has requested $196 billion for similar war-related expenses.

The government also spent $43 billion on homeland security, not including $17 billion funded through the Defense Department budget. The additional money went through a number of other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security ($29 billion), the Department of Health and Human Services ($4.3 billion), and the Justice Department ($3.1 billion). Homeland security funding is one of the fastest growing areas of federal spending, quadrupling since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The White House further revealed that it spent $43 billion on intelligence-related activities last year. This announcement, the result of legislation passed by Congress in 2006, was the first time in a decade the government had officially released this figure. Roughly, 80 percent is thought to be funded through the Pentagon's annual budget, leaving an estimated $8 billion in additional intelligence spending.

Veterans' benefits accounted for $73 billion in federal spending last year to provide for those who've served their country in the past. Of this, $30 billion was for hospital and medical care and $42 billion for disability pensions and the G.I. education program. According to a recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of caring for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars could add $13 billion or more annually to this total.

And the list goes on. According to the White House, the government paid $433 billion in interest on the national debt, and a conservative estimate puts the cost of past military spending attributable to this debt at $99 billion annually.

The government paid $44 billion in pension benefits for retired military personnel. It also provided $55 billion for pay and benefits for civilian employees of the Defense Department (DoD), and a further $22 billion in pensions for Pentagon retirees.

The State Department provided almost $5 billion in military aid to foreign countries, and over $1 billion for international peacekeeping operations. It provided a further $420 million for such things as countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combating terrorism, and clearing landmines. The military's space program accounted for roughly 20 percent of NASA's budget, or $3 billion.

In all, the United States spent an estimated $990 billion last year on defense and other security-related activities. And even THIS figure is incomplete. It doesn't include, for instance, pay and benefits for non-DoD federal employees working on security issues for the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, or Department of Justice or Treasury. Nor does it include interest payments on past debt from paying veterans' benefits or retirees' pensions. It doesn't include the majority of the State Department's operating budget, although we must assume that at least some of our government's diplomatic initiatives are directed at promoting U.S. security.

Last year the total federal budget was roughly $2.8 trillion dollars. Former Senator Everett Dirksen is often credited with saying, regarding government spending, that "a billion here and a billion there, and soon you're talking real money." Well, in a $2.8 trillion annual budget, $1 trillion in security spending IS real money.

Christopher Hellman is a Military Policy Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C.

© 2007

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