Spartacus Report: "Mr. Smith is Dead"

February 19, 2002

Comment #: 440

Discussion Thread - Comment #s - #415, 414, 389 364 and related commentaries, 284

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Samuel Johnson may have coined this phrase over 200 years ago, but it still applies to the contemporary politicians, industrialists, and milcrats who are now exploiting the public spirit of shared sacrifice brought about by the tauma of September 11 to cover their usual smarmy money-grubbing agendas. In the Pentagon, these agendas are known collectively as the Defense Power Games.

There is growing evidence that the Defense Power Games are spinning spinning wildly out of control throughout the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC). If left uncontained, the result will be a pork stampede that provides a little short-term relief (at best) to the Pentagon's chronic modernization, readiness, and financial management problems, but sets the stage for a magnification of these problems and ever-rising defense budgets over the long term, just like the defense spendup did in the early 1980s.

At the lower end of the power game spectrum is old-fashioned porkbarrelling. At the upper end are the cynical front loading and political engineering strategies applied to entire defense budget. [The high end games will be discussed in a series of forthcoming commentaries -- new readers should prepare themselves by reviewing the Defense Power Games Report to see how these strategies shaped the spendup in the early 1980s and set the stage for the problems in the 1990s which robbed the United States of its post-cold war peace dividend.

George Wilson, the dean of Washington's defense reporters, has just provided a clear insight into some of the squalid excesses now taking place at the lower end of the gaming spectrum -- in the military construction budget, always a favorite of the porkers in the Congressional wing of MICC. Amazingly, Wilson's source is a report, "Mr. Smith is Dead," written by a anonymous Congressional staffer under the pseudonym of Spartacus [See Comments #415 and #414 for references to earlier Spartacus Reports].

I am told the new Spartacus Report is now circulating widely among reformers on Capital Hill and that its analysis goes well beyond the subjects described by Wilson below.

There also seems to be some confusion about the meaning of the metaphor in its title: Wilson says Spartacus was alluding to idealism of Jimmy Stewart in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." But a conservative libertarian staffer who knows Spartacus told me that Spartacus is really saying Adam Smith, the philosophical father of entrepreneurial capitalism -- free markets, private property, individualism, and the freedom to fail -- is dead. Judge for yourself, but from my perspective, both are as dead as tree stumps when it comes the shenanigans of the MICC.

------[Begin Wilson Report]-----

Talking About Defense

Pentagon Choking On Congressional Pork

By George C. Wilson National Journal
February16, 2002 Pg. 484
[Reprinted with Permission of the Author]

Congress's practice of wrapping its pork in the American flag has gotten so flagrant that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld felt compelled to complain about it in a little-noted part of his testimony this month on President Bush's new defense budget. Congressional pork is usually defined as spending that the President did not request but that was inserted into his budget to pay for lawmakers' pet projects back home.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been waging a lonely war against pork for years. He says Congress has become "blatant" in taking money away from true military needs and earmarking it for vote-getting projects back home, such as a National Guard armory or military museum that will not help our soldiers win a war against terrorists--or anyone else.

But now, McCain is enjoying some company. A growing number of congressional staffers, people who have watched their elected superiors ladle pork into legislation year after year, are now sounding off in private about how the process has gotten out of hand. One of these disillusioned staffers, under the pen name "Spartacus" (after a slave who rebelled against his masters in ancient Rome) has written a paper decrying the way Congress has been hooking its pet projects to Bush's war against terrorism.

"The effectiveness of any war against terrorism is eviscerated as Congress drains off massive amounts of defense and anti-terrorism funding to pursue self-promotion, persistently deceives the nation about just what is going on, and laughs while false reformers play-act at the role of Mr. Smith," Spartacus writes in the unpublished paper, which is drawing nods of agreement among Hill rebels. The paper is titled "Mr. Smith Is Dead," after the idealistic character played by Jimmy Stewart in the Hollywood film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Spartacus searched through legislation passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11 and concluded that lawmakers added 120 projects to the military construction bill for fiscal 2002, which was passed in the fall of 2001. The President and the Pentagon requested none of these. And the military construction bill is one of the lesser measures that contain money for the armed forces.

Of the 120 add-ons, Spartacus wrote: "Just two were training facilities, and just one directly involved security. The balance of what was added constituted a hodge-podge of irrelevancies. They included plans for a new museum, a new chapel, gyms, warehouses, fire stations, water towers, land acquisition, day-care centers, National Guard armories (which Congress renamed `readiness centers') and much else. They were all routine additions. They were typical of the pork Congress adds to peacetime military construction budgets every year."

After counting up the expenditures inserted in the 2002 military construction budget for projects that Bush did not request, Spartacus calculated that California got the most, $144 million. Texas was second in what the renegade critic calls the Pork-o-Rama contest, getting $86 million in add-ons; and West Virginia was third, with $44 million. Not so coincidentally, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California chaired the Senate Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee that crafted the bill; Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas was its ranking minority member; and Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia chaired the parent Appropriations Committee.

Usually, rebels against the status quo end up shouting down a well, especially if they are staffers. But there have been exceptions--the late J. Fred Buzhardt is a case in point. Like Spartacus, Buzhardt saw the workings of Congress and the Pentagon from the inside, as a top aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who during the Vietnam War was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Buzhardt wrote papers, also under a classical pseudonym, decrying the way then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara was running the Pentagon and the Vietnam War. Buzhardt's views helped bring the issue of the war to a critical mass in Congress. Instead of being fired, Buzhardt was appointed general counsel of the Pentagon in the Nixon Administration and later the President's counselor.

Whether Spartacus and other like-minded staffers can foment congressional changes--or bring concern over pork add-ons to a critical mass this year, as the Enron Corp. scandal has done for campaign finance reform--will depend largely on how much political capital Rumsfeld and Bush decide to spend on the issue. Last week, Rumsfeld fired an opening shot for the Administration by saying this to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"A fairly substantial portion of the budget that we proposed last year was changed. I think it's something like 13 percent of all research, development, test and evaluation programs--some 995 changes; 8.6 percent of all the procurement programs--436 individual changes; and 15 percent of all military construction--or 146 changes." He said it was time "for all of us to step back" and ask whether that's the best way "to conduct our business."

The Defense Secretary was too polite to use the four-letter word "pork," but Congress's own reports testify to how extensively lawmakers, especially the power brokers, add and subtract millions of defense dollars among Pentagon accounts to finance "nice-to-have" projects back home, which were not on any "must-have" list submitted by the President, the Defense Secretary, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The record also shows that Spartacus is right in accusing lawmakers of hitching nonterrorist additions to the war-against-terrorism bandwagon. For example, this is how Chairwoman Feinstein of the Senate Military Construction Subcommittee presented the $10.5 billion military appropriations bill to the Senate last September 26--just 15 days after terrorists flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon:

"Given the events of the past few weeks, and the events that we expect to unfold over the coming weeks and months, this bill could not be more timely.... Our men and women in uniform cannot afford any delay in getting these projects....

Sen. Hutchison hailed her chairwoman, declaring: "We have been able to work in a bipartisan way to meet the needs of our military.... We have sought a balanced bill that addresses military construction requirements for readiness, family housing, barracks and quality of life for the active and reserve components."

The military construction bill slid through the Senate and House without a single challenge to the add-ons. President Bush signed the measure into law on November 5. A study of these add-ons confirms Spartacus's complaint that few, if any, of them help troops fight terrorists. A table at the back of the House-Senate conference report details most, but not all, of the projects inserted in the military construction bill sent to the President. The figures are fresh evidence that pork follows power in the area of national defense.

What follows are the top-12 states in add-ons, with the total price tag for the add-ons, some of each state's costliest projects (as identified in the fiscal 2002 conference report, H 107-246), and each state's well-positioned political champions. Remember, not one of these projects was requested by the President or the Pentagon as militarily necessary.

California--$71.4 million. Maintenance shop, Fort Irwin, $23 million; Azusa National Guard "readiness center," $14 million. Sen. Feinstein (D); and Reps. Jerry Lewis (R), chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, and Duncan Hunter (R), a member of House Armed Services.

Texas--$71 million. Airfield upgrade at Fort Hood, $18 million; C-130 airplane facility at Dyess Air Force Base, $16.8 million; cleaning complex at Corpus Christi Army depot, $10.4 million. Sen. Hutchison (R), House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R), Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R).

Florida--$35 million. Reserve center at St. Petersburg, $34 million; House Appropriations Chairman C.W. "Bill" Young (R).

West Virginia--$32 million. Reserve center and maintenance shop at Glen Jean, $21.4 million; National Guard "readiness center" at Williamstown, $6.4 million; maintenance complex at National Guard's Yeager Airport, $4.1 million. Sen. Byrd (D). Bush requested no military construction funds for the state.

Virginia--$29.7 million. Training facility, National Guard base at Fort Pickett, $10.7 million; access roads at Fort Eustis, $9.9 million; personnel center at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, $9 million. Sen. John W. Warner, senior Republican on Armed Services Committee; Reps. Virgil H. Goode (I), a member of the Military Construction Subcommittee, James P. Moran (D), and Frank R. Wolf (R)-three members of the House Appropriations Committee.

Mississippi--$28.3 million. Humidified storage warehouse, Army reserve base at Gulfport, $12.2 million; radar control center, Columbus Air Force Base, $5 million. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R), Senate Appropriations member Thad Cochran (R), and Rep. Roger Wicker (R).

New Jersey--$27.2 million. Air freight terminal, McGuire Air Force Base, $12.6 million; propellant plant at Picatinny Arsenal, $10.2 million. House Appropriations members: Rodney Frelinghuysen (R), who is on the Defense Subcommittee, and Steven R. Rothman (D).

Alaska--$25.6 million. Army urban-warfare training center, Fort Richardson, $18 million; National Guard "readiness center," Juneau, $7.6 million. Sen. Ted Stevens, ranking Republican on Appropriations as well as on its Defense Subcommittee.

New York--$25.3 million. Access roads at Fort Drum, $18.5 million; improvements at Hancock Field, $4 million. House Appropriations members Maurice D. Hinchey (D), Nita M. Lowey (D), Jose Serrano (D), John Sweeney (R), James T. Walsh (R); and Rep. John M. McHugh (R) of House Armed Services Military Installations and Facilities Subcommittee.

Nevada--$25.1 million. Land acquisition, Nellis Air Force Base, $19 million; water-treatment improvements, Fallon Naval Air Station, $6.1 million. Sen. Harry Reid (D), Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee; Rep. Jim Gibbons (R), member of House Armed Services.

Oklahoma--$20.5 million. Plating shop at Tinker Air Force Base, $11.2 million; Oklahoma City National Guard "readiness center," $9.3 million. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R), member of Senate Armed Services; Reps. J.C. Watts Jr. (R), House Armed Services; and Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R), House Appropriations.

Ohio--$19.8 million. Improvements to Air National Guard facilities at Springfield-Beckley municipal airport, $10.6 million; security gate, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, $3.4 million. Sen. Mike DeWine (R), Senate Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee; and Rep. David Hobson (R), chairman of House Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee.

The porking-up of defense authorization and appropriations bills is even more extensive. These bills contain so much vital money for the troops and weapons, however, that Presidents are reluctant to veto them. But if Rumsfeld and Bush are really serious about declaring war on pork, the President could send this message to Congress loud and clear by vetoing the 2003 military construction bill, if the lawmakers pork it up as usual.

--------[End Wilson Essay on Spartacus Report]-----------

It is easy to point fingers at Congress, but there is plenty of blame to go around. Excesses in the Pentagon and the defense industry will be subjects of future blasters.

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