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Pentagon shows disregard for budget, treaties

Two recent reports remind us again exactly who holds sway in government when it comes to getting the lion’s share of public money.

The first, called “More Pentagon Follies,” was released by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that supports fiscal responsibility, and The Council for a Livable World Education Fund, a nonprofit corporation that wants dramatic cuts in defense spending. The report is based largely on news stories and investigations by the U.S. General Accounting Office and the Defense Department’s inspector general.

Among other things it considers payments for corporate restructuring, known in some quarters of Washington as the “money for nothing” policy. “The Department of Defense has been providing large, profitable defense contractors with substantial subsidies since 1993 to cover restructuring costs associated with corporate mergers,” says the “Follies” report. So far this year, DOD acknowledges spending at least $817 million for this purpose.

The official explanation: The government wants to encourage companies to become more efficient so that they can build weapons at lower costs. But if the efficiencies to be gained by restructuring are so obvious, it would be reasonable to expect business to do it without government rewards.

A few other Pentagon follies, as detailed in this year’s report:

  • A third deluxe 18-hole golf course is in the works at Andrews Air Base near Washington. Construction costs have soared to $7 million from the projected $5.1 million. Defense officials say that the golf course is the answer to military morale problems, which can be traced in part to crowded military golf courses. More golf courses also are needed, according to military logic, to repair morale after the damage inflicted by -- you guessed it -- defense cuts!
  • Despite all the talk of downsizing and congressional concerns about “officer inflation,” the Pentagon wants to add dozens of new generals. The Marine Corps, which received a dozen new generals last year, now has a total of 80 generals to oversee 174,000 troops -- one more than it needed to command 475,000 troops in 1945.
  • The Pentagon recently completed work on a $5.1 million chapel at a naval training center in San Diego that is scheduled to close this year. This follows a familiar pattern. A 1995 study by the Pentagon found $263 million worth of construction projects at military bases that were either scheduled for closing or had already closed.
  • Navy officials, “reliving the glory days of the $435 hammer and the $640 toilet seat,” have paid far more money than necessary for various supplies and parts. The Navy paid $127.46 for an aluminum washer, for example, that could have been obtained for $10.50 or less. Nearly $2,000 was spent on a $103 gas bottle.
  • The Defense Department has admitted that it simply cannot account for $18 billion. And that appears to be optimistic. The GAO puts the figure at more than $43 billion.

Meanwhile, according to another report, this one from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a recently declassified Department of Energy document contains plans for designing nuclear weapons and simulating nuclear explosions in apparent contradiction of the goals of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. If implemented over the next decade as planned, said the report, the program could erode important U.S nonproliferation objectives as well as undermine political assurances the U.S government has given to other nations.

The Natural Resources Defense Council report analyzes the Department of Energy’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program and represents the first public airing of declassified portions of the “Green Book,” DOE’s comprehensive “road map” of U.S. plans and ongoing programs involving the nuclear weapons stockpile.

While the U.S. government is not now designing or producing advanced new types of nuclear weapons, it is enlarging its capabilities to do so while continuing to design nuclear explosive packages to replace warheads on existing systems such as the Navy’s Trident II missile.

The United States sought and achieved both the indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, partly on the strength of assurances that it would not design new nuclear weapons. Yet some of the ongoing and planned activities of the Department of Energy’s stockpile program come into conflict with those assurances. (The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has been endorsed by the United Nations and signed by over 140 nations, including China, Russia and the major nuclear powers. Although President Clinton signed the treaty in 1996, it has not yet been ratified by the Senate.)

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in spite of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the United States is planning to:

  • significantly expand its base of nuclear weapons knowledge by building extensive above-ground experimental facilities for nuclear weapons physics and conducting underground high-explosive experiments with plutonium and other nuclear materials at the Nevada Test Site;
  • develop within the coming decade comprehensive three-dimensional, computer simulations of nuclear weapons performance, resulting in a “virtual testing” capability;
  • develop and integrate into existing weapons improved components, such as new radar, detonators, neutron generators and boost-gas transfer systems;
  • rebuild and certify the performance of weapons with modified nuclear components;
  • modify and repackage existing nuclear weapons and conduct flight tests to certify their ability to withstand the stresses of new stockpile-to-target sequences, such as high speed earth penetration to destroy hardened underground targets with reduced collateral damage;
  • design, simulate and fly weapon prototypes and certify both the nuclear and stockpile-to-target performance of new weapon designs as possible replacements for existing weapons.

What missed opportunities when the talk about spending cuts continually bypass the Defense Department. Washington would do well to talk more about the need to slash military welfare.

But the Pentagon need not worry about being harassed. It goes on, apparently without regard for budgetary restraints at home or treaty limitations negotiated with partners abroad.

National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 1997