Tax Day approaches, and with it, the perennial question: We're paying the government a lot of money -- but what are we getting for our money?
Despite all the trees that get killed every year making paper for government budget reports, much of the U.S. government remains decidedly opaque to taxpayers. Quick: Name the Department of the Interior's budget amount for fiscal 2015, and describe in 10 words or less what the Department of the Interior even does.
Clarity From an Unexpected Source
And yet, there's one part of the U.S. government that makes a habit of telling taxpayers not only how much money it spends, but what it spends this money on -- down to the penny and in near-real time. Believe it or not, we're talking about the Pentagon.
Despite having a reputation as a somewhat secretive organization, the Pentagon is one of our most "open" government agencies. Almost every day on its website, the Department of Defense tells U.S. taxpayers what contracts it's issued, to whom and for how much. Whether it's tanks, drones, bullets or even aircraft supercarriers, the Pentagon tells you about it openly, in black and white.
And now we're going to tell you about it, too.
What Your Tax Dollars Bought in February
In the previous month, the Pentagon reported awarding contracts totaling $13.93 billion. Here are a few of the more interesting items the generals spent your tax dollars on:
Drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles remain as popular as ever. Early in the month, the Pentagon awarded $279 million to General Atomics to produce 24 MQ-9 "Reaper" unmanned aerial vehicles ("drones," in the popular parlance) for the U.S. Air Force. Toward month's end, the Pentagon awarded Northrop Grumman (NOC) $26 million to support U.S. Navy MQ-8 Fire Scouts (robotic helicopters).
Aircraft carriers. There's been a lot of talk lately about the state of the American aircraft carrier fleet, and in particular, the fact that we only have 10 carriers in operation, despite a statutory requirement that the Navy maintain an 11-carrier fleet. Carrier fans, then, will be pleased to learn that on Feb. 4, the Navy awarded Huntington Ingalls (HII) a $224 million contract to begin preparations to refuel and refurbish the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). Once complete, this years-long task will return the Washington to service, ready to sail for another 25 years.
Helicopters for the Army. For $220 million, the U.S. Army will receive 41 72A Lakota Helicopters from European aerospace conglomerate Airbus. Then, for $591 million more, it will get 35 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters from Boeing (BA).
Nukes. You may have thought that nuclear weapons went out of fashion with the Cold War -- but everything old is nuke again for the Navy. On Feb. 9, the Navy awarded Charles Stark Draper Laboratory (no relation to Tony Stark) $302 million to fund the testing of the guidance systems aboard U.S. Trident sub-launched nuclear missiles.
Foreign aid. Finally, never one to be stingy, the Pentagon awarded a slew of contracts facilitating arms sales to U.S. allies around the world. Among these were awards for $144 million to supply 2,040 of Lockheed Martin's (LMT) Hellfire missiles to customers in Australia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar; $221 million to pay Britain's BAE Systems to support and maintain F-16 fighter jets flown by the air forces of Morocco, Egypt, Oman, Pakistan, Indonesia and Portugal; and $402 million to have Boeing upgrade four AWACS planes for Japan.
Mind you, this is just a small sampling of the $13.93 billion in contracts the Pentagon announced on its website. That sounds like a lot. In fact, though, this was a light spending month for the Pentagon, which is budgeted to spend some $585 billion in fiscal 2015, or nearly $49 billion a month. Even with nearly half that sum budgeted to pay for military servicemembers' pay and benefits, the Pentagon still spent significantly less than you'd expect it to, in an ordinary month.
Will it make up the difference in March? Tune back in at month's end to find out.
Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith thinks that, with just a little effort, the Pentagon might have been able to find someone named Howard Stark to work on its nukes. And that that would have been pretty cool. He has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow him on Facebook for moredefense news. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned either. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.