The Win-Win Power Game ... or ... Why Working the
Troops Overtime is Good for St. Louis and the Nation

June 13, 1999

Comment: #284


[1] Philip Dine, "Senate Seeks 4 More Boeing F-15 Eagle Jets," St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 9, 1999.

[2] BOND (AND ASHCROFT) AMENDMENT NO. 587 (Senate - June 08, 1999) Congressional Record, Page: S6719 Attached.

[3] Bryant Jordan, "The Hunt For Spare Parts: Why Shortages Keep Eating Away At Readiness," Air Force Times, February 15, 1999, Pg. 12 .

Reference #1 is an interesting example of what the media does and does not deem to be newsworthy when it is reporting on local defense pork. This kind of biased reporting will help the reader understand how the media reinforces government decisions that collectively work to produce a modernization program that can not modernize the force AND a rapidly deteriorating posture. (Don't let the war in Kosovo fool you—deteriorating readiness is still a major issue).

First a little background: The Senate just passed the $265 billion Fiscal Year 2000 Defense Appropriations bill. Included is this bill was a unanimously approved amendment co-sponsored by Republican Senators Bond and Ashcroft of Missouri to add $220 million for 4 new F-15E fighter/bombers, which were not requested by the Air Force, and happen to be made in St. Louis, MO. The language of the Bond-Ashcroft Amendment in the Congressional Record is reproduced in Reference #2 below.

The St Louis Post-Dispatch reports the good news in Reference #1. Let us first look at what this report deems to be newsworthy, and then we will examine what was left out.

It tells us why Tom Downey, top spokesman of the Boeing Corporation (the F-15E's manufacturer), asserts the Bond-Ashcroft amendment is good for St. Louis and the UNITED STATES: First, Downey says it will save jobs—7,000 are at stake because the production line is about to close. (Reason: the AF has bought all the F-15Es it wants, Boeing just lost a $3.5 billion contract when Greece chose the F-16 over the F-15, and Israel has delayed its decision to buy either the F-15 or F-16). Second, this purchase sends a message that the Senate thinks the F-15 is an important asset for the whole country (Duh! But the customer does not want it as evidenced by the fact that other more important priorities took precedence in its budget.) Third, Downey says that continued F-15 production will help bridge to other sales domestically or internationally (But this is going to be a very long bridge because no one knows where this production coming from. The AF does not want any more F-15Es and it is too expensive to compete in the foreign market without US subsidies.). While Downey's reasoning is obviously incomplete, to put it charitably, one thing is clear: more F-15Es are good for Boeing and Tom Downey.

The Post-Dispatch also found Senator Bond's comments to be newsworthy. Bond claimed the amendment is a "win-win" for those Missouri families whose jobs depend on production AND for our armed services and the "protection of our national security."

While I have no problem with reporting the self-interested comments of Boeing's top publicist or the hyperbolic comments of the local Senator who engineered the deal, I do have a problem with what the Post-Dispatch deemed to be un-newsworthy—namely the horse trading that went into the F-15 amendment.

There is NO MENTION of what the Defense Department had to give up to eat the 4 F-15Es it did not ask for. Uncovering this horse trade certainly would not have been a great feat of investigative reporting. All the editors had to do was to tell the reporter to read the enabling language in the Congressional Record, which is reproduced in Reference #2 below.

Had the Post-Dispatch been interested in balanced reporting, it would have uncovered and exposed the nature of Senator Bond's win-win victory. The report would have said that the additional 4 F-15s would be paid for by robbing $70 million from the Air Force's spares parts accounts, $50 million from the Navy's spare parts accounts, $50 million from the National Guard and Reserve equipment accounts (curiously, Senator Bond is co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus), and $50 million from R&D for National Missile Defense. It would also have said that the amendment was passed without debate and probably went unnoticed by 90% of the members of the Senate.

Robbing spares accounts to fund unrequested pork is one of the practices that got us into big trouble in the 1970s. Today, the consequences of this practice go well beyond the immediate effects of the spares shortfalls. A little more investigative digging might have surfaced the fact the GAO's study of personnel retention problems in the armed services will cite shortages of spares parts and overwork (in part driven by the need to cannibalize to make up for these shortages) as major reasons why people are leaving the service at an unacceptable rate.

Last February, Air Force Times reporter Bryant Jordan put together an excellent case study of how the trickle down effects of spares shortages in the C-5 fleet cause the cannibalizations that have put the Air Force on the slippery slope to lower readiness [Reference #3]. It will give you an idea of the kind of damage done to readiness and the human costs of 'win-win' amendments that rob spare parts accounts to pay for unrequested pork.

Had the Post-Dispatch made a minimal effort to understand and report the details behind the amendment, it would have been a better watchdog for the public rather than acting as an unquestioning lapdog for the interests of Boeing and its wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress.

But all is not lost.

I have a recommendation for a recovery option: The editors should tell the reporter to get his butt down to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, home of the F-15Es, and report on the condition of the F-15Es the AF left behind when they deployed the F-15Es to the skies over Yugoslavia.

For starters, he could count engines that are available -- then he could report how many empty holes are in airplanes where engines (and other spare parts) are supposed to be. Then he could try to trace the trickle-down effects like Jordan did in Reference #3. Finally, he could ask why these holes exist in the F-15E fleet, which happens to be the newest most modern fighter-bomber in the AF's tacair inventory.

Once all this information is in hand, the editors should tell him to explain to the American people why spending $220 million to buy 4 more F-15Es contributes more to national security than using that money to buy more spare parts for the planes already in the fleet (or using the money to buy twice as many F-16s). Armed with this knowledge, the Post-Dispatch would be in a better position to tell its readers if Senator Bond's amendment is truly a win-win situation for all the America taxpayers and the flyers who will fly into harms way, or just for St. Louis.

That kind of forthright reportage would be far better for the people of St. Louis and the Nation than banalities that wrap a flag around selfish porking policies that weaken our military.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this 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.]

Reference 2

BOND (AND ASHCROFT) AMENDMENT NO. 587 (Senate - June 08, 1999)
Congressional Record, Page: S6719

Mr. STEVENS (for Mr. Bond (for himself and Mr. Domenici)) proposed an amendment to the bill, S. 1122, supra; as follows:

In the appropriate place in the bill, insert the following new section:

`Sec. . In addition to funds appropriated elsewhere in this Act, the amount appropriated in Title III of this Act under the heading `Aircraft Procurement, Air Force' is hereby increased by $220,000,000 only to procure four (4) F-15E aircraft; Provided, that the amount provided in Title IV of this Act under the heading `Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Defense-Wide' is hereby reduced by $50,000,000 to reduce the total amount available for National Missile Defense; Provided further, that the amount provided in Title III of this Act under the heading `National Guard and Reserve Equipment' is hereby reduced by $50,000,000 on a pro-rata basis; Provided further, that the amount provided in Title III of this Act under the heading `Aircraft Procurement, Air Force' is hereby reduced by $70,000,000 to reduce the total amount available for Spares and Repair Parts; Provided further, that the amount provided in Title III of this Act under the heading `Aircraft Procurement, Navy' is hereby reduced by $50,000,000 to reduce the total amount available for Spares and Repair Parts.