Reviving oversight: Sanders targets war profiteers draining US coffers

This bipartisan congressional panel, formed during World War II, was instrumental in overseeing military contracts and reining in defense contractors who profited at the expense of American taxpayers.

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Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is advocating for a return to an 80-year-old solution to curb the excesses of defense spending: The revival of the Truman Committee. This bipartisan congressional panel, formed during World War II, was instrumental in overseeing military contracts and reining in defense contractors who profited at the expense of American taxpayers.

“Our country spends, with almost no debate, nearly $1 trillion a year on the military,” Sanders pointed out in a recent article in The Atlantic. “But somehow we can’t summon the resources to provide healthcare for all, childcare, affordable housing, and other basic needs.”

The Truman Committee’s historical success in tackling wartime profiteering offers a blueprint for contemporary oversight. During its tenure, the committee conducted hundreds of investigations, saving taxpayers billions of dollars in today’s currency by exposing fraud and inefficiency.

Currently, the U.S. stands as the world’s dominant military power, dedicating about 40% of global military expenditures. “The U.S. spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined, most of whom are allies,” Sanders emphasized, highlighting the disproportionate allocation of resources.

A particularly alarming example of war profiteering that Sanders underscored involves RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon), which has increased the price of its Stinger shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles by 600% to $400,000 each since the early 1990s. This egregious price surge epitomizes the unchecked greed within the defense sector.

The profits amassed by defense contractors are staggering. Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin saw their share prices soar by 40% and 37% respectively by the end of 2022. Lockheed Martin alone was awarded over $45 billion in unclassified contracts by the federal government in the same year, returning about a quarter of this sum to shareholders.

“These companies’ greed is not just fleecing the American taxpayer; it’s killing Ukrainians,” Sanders stated, emphasizing the dire consequences of corporate profiteering on the battlefield.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been under scrutiny for its financial management, failing six consecutive audits. The most recent audit revealed that nearly two-thirds of its $3.8 trillion in assets could not be fully accounted for. Such failures in fiscal accountability underscore the urgent need for enhanced oversight.

Instances of overcharging are rampant, with companies like TransDigm overcharging the Pentagon by as much as 4,451%. Despite these outrageous markups and numerous fines for fraud, defense contracts continue to flow, buoyed by a system Sanders describes as “legalized bribery.” Defense contractors funneled nearly $140 million into lobbying efforts last year, according to OpenSecrets, with millions more directed towards campaign contributions to ensure the defense budget remains inflated.

To combat this entrenched system of profiteering, Sanders advocates for the reestablishment of the Truman Committee and the introduction of a windfall profits tax. These measures aim to restore accountability and fairness to defense spending, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used judically rather than lining the pockets of defense industry executives.

The call to reinstate the Truman Committee resonates with a growing concern over the ethical implications of war profiteering. As the U.S. navigates complex global conflicts, the need for stringent oversight of defense spending has never been more critical. Sanders’ proposition challenges the status quo, urging a reevaluation of national priorities to better reflect the values and needs of the American populace.

“We apparently have unlimited amounts of money for nuclear weapons, fighter planes, bombs, and tanks,” writes Sanders. “But somehow we can’t summon the resources to provide health care for all, child care, affordable housing, and other basic needs.”

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