Notes From the Sausage Factory (III) -
The Banality of Defense Spending

August 15, 1998

Comment: #167

Discussion Thread:  Sausage Making (#s 122, 128, 130, 135, 154) Readiness Trap Sprung (#s: 131, 159, 165, 166) Readiness Problems (#s 44-49, 56, 62, 64, 65, 88, 90, 91, 98, 100, 101, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 126, 127, 129,132-134, 136, 149, 150, 152, 153, 155, 156, 158, 160, 161)


[1] Charles R. Babcock, "Congress Fattens Defense Bill With $4 Billion in Pork: Some Earmarked Projects Have Little Military Value, Officials Say," Washington Post, August 15, 1998, page A1. (Attached)

The attached report by Charles Babcock is yet more evidence of how narrow domestic political efforts to protect the cold-war status quo of the military-industrial-congressional faction are taking precedence over larger national interests in the defense budget debate [see thread for Sausage Making]. Contrast the porkbarrelling activities described in Babcock's report [below] to the ever-louder cries for higher defense spending by so-called pro-defense members of Congress [see thread for Readiness Trap Sprung] and the rapidly deteriorating readiness posture of our military forces [see thread for Readiness Problems].

Note how Babcock lets Senator McCain skate again. McCain appears to be a pro-defense statesman, because another reporter did not compare his noble words to his inactions [see Comment #130 for a congressional staffer's inside view of McCain's words and deeds and #135 for an earlier example of such reporting].

Does anyone see a problem here? I offer the following questions as food for thought:

Does it matter to Congress that the high-cost, politically-engineered modernization program can not produce enough new weapons to modernize the substantially smaller forces of the post-cold war era, even if procurement budgets rise steadily for the next ten years? Does it matter to Congress that the readiness of our military forces to survive and prevail when placed in harm's way is rapidly deteriorating? Does it matter to Congress that the Pentagon mocks the constitutional principle of accountability and Congress's power of the purse by producing unauditable books, which conveniently mask the hard decisions needed to adapt our military forces to the changed conditions brought about by the end of the Cold War? Maybe, Congress is the problem?

Or is the banality of Congress merely a consequence a larger pattern of accumulating corrosion, wherein collective habits (actions and non-actions) of those in power insensibly sacrifice the welfare of the 'whole' to protect the 'faction' which benefits by continuing business-as-usual in a changing environment?

Accumulating Corrosion, and its societal consequence, Non-Adaptability, are by no means new evolutionary phenomena in the unfolding process of cultural selection. Readers interested in gaining a richer insight into the human dynamics implicit in the banality of defense spending are urged to study Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

After all, those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. In the slowly accumulating process of cultural selection, history has repeatedly shown that small, seemingly harmless, changes to evolutionary pathways in the near term often lead to a profoundly adverse selection over the long term.

Perhaps there is a way out of the cul-de-sac. What would happen if the Pentagon led by example?

By detoxing the accounting system, stepping up honestly and forthrightly to hard decisions, while letting the chips fall where they may, we would at least clarify the real choices, and maybe give the system of checks and balances an opportunity to evolve a pathway that works for ALL of the American people.

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


Congress Fattens Defense Bill With $4 Billion in Pork Some Earmarked Projects Have Little Military Value, Officials Say

By Charles R. Babcock Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, August 15, 1998; Page A01


At a time when the Pentagon is lamenting a lack of money for key programs, the annual defense appropriations bill headed toward passage this fall contains an estimated $4 billion in projects the military never asked for -- programs added on by members of Congress seeking to steer military spending to their home districts.

Some of the projects, such as a $1.5 billion ship that would bring jobs to Mississippi and is being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) in the face of Pentagon doubts, have at least some military purpose, but are seen by defense officials as a misdirection of resources. Others, such as a $1 million request championed by Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) for a Lewis-and-Clark exhibit in his state, have little apparent military value.


Critics such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Senate's main nag on pork-barrel spending, said even $4 billion is too much. The earmarks "represent a serious hemorrhage of scarce defense dollars to low-priority programs at the expense of vital readiness and modernization programs," he said.


There's $14 million in the Senate bill for Stevens's dogged pursuit of research on the Northern Lights. Called HAARP, for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project, it has cost almost $100 million so far to build 70-foot-tall antennae about 200 miles from Anchorage, according to program manager John Heckscher.


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