Department of Defense

The Department of Defense oversees a vast array of people and assets at home and abroad. We would improve the nation’s security by reducing our global overreach and adopting a more restrained and defensive strategy. We should cut the number of military personnel and reduce overseas deployments to save money and relieve burdens on military families.

The department will spend $652 billion in 2019, or $5,110 per U.S. household. The department has 1.5 million uniformed employees and about 738,000 civilian employees.

Department of Defense Spending in Billions of Constant Dollars
Downsize This!
  • Refocusing U.S. Defense Strategy. The department’s budget is built on an overly ambitious strategy that tries to do too much, but leaves us less safe from true threats. Defense is a core federal function, but much of the work of today’s military has little to do with protecting our vital interests.
  • A Plan to Cut Military Spending. U.S. ground forces should be reduced by one-third over time, which is possible without reducing U.S. security. The Navy should be restructured to operate as a surge force, rather than being a permanent global presence. We should also shift more of the burdens of defense to other prosperous democracies.
  • Rightsizing U.S. Ground Forces. Rising personnel costs have pushed up the defense budget. Support for large ground forces is driven by the view that future wars will resemble those in Iraq and Afghanistan, but combating terrorism does not require the large ground forces that we have today.
Timeline of Government Growth
Cato Experts
"Our problem is to achieve adequate military strength within the limits of endurable strain upon our economy. To amass military power without regard to our economic capacity would be to defend ourselves against one kind of disaster by inviting another."
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