While most Americans have the spirit of ‘giving’ this Thanksgiving, government officials have their hands out. They’re lobbying for money privately and publicly this holiday season as federal budget negotiations get under way.
At the Pentagon, this lobbying takes a very peculiar turn. Each year, DOD officials hint that some of the most popular military personnel programs are in danger of being cut – even though cutting them wouldn’t make a dent in the defense budget. Because these programs are important to soldiers, they’re important to lawmakers, too.
This year lobbying efforts have already begun, as sequestration is set to remove $50 billion from the Pentagon’s budget. Already there is a laundry list of beloved programs that are supposedly in danger of disappearing into the ether. These include:
- The Stars and Stripes newspaper, which only costs the Pentagon $7.8 million each year.
- The Armed Forces Network, which costs DOD $51.6 million.
- The Pentagon channel, which broadcasts news and information for U.S. troops and has an annual budget of $6.1 million.
- Commissaries where troops and their families shop on base. These shops offer American products at steep discounts at bases around the world.
- Bowling alleys, which are popular on bases around the world. Soldiers and their families use them at a discounted rate.
- Golf courses, where troops and their guests also play at a discounted rate.
- Recreation centers on bases around the world, which offer youth sports like soccer and football. They also have child-care programs.
- Auto hobby shops. Around the world, these shops serve as commissaries for car parts.
All of the DOD warnings about potential cuts come despite the fact that the Pentagon is unable to pass an audit. Tens of billions of dollars simply, and shockingly, disappear from its budget. Yet it’s the small, popular, troop-friendly programs that are consistently the ones allegedly headed for the gallows.
Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force Chief of Staff, said during a visit to Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota that golf courses and bowling alleys are “nice to have,” according to a report on Military.com. He said that warnings about these closings were not an attempt to “try and scare people in his service – none.”
“Nobody cares more about the men and women in our services than the service chiefs, and nobody wants to do what's right for them more than we do,” said Welsh.
Gordon Adams, a defense budget expert at American University, said there’s a need for some changes that will impact troops, such as compensation and benefit reform. But he dismissed warnings about popular programs as a PR stunt.
“We’re in budget season,” he said. “What we have is a renewed assault of public relations. We’re not talking substance here.”
This classic tactic of government agencies is called The Washington Monument Syndrome. According to Wikipedia, it’s “a term used to accuse government agencies in the United States of cutting the most visible or appreciated service provided by the government when faced with budget cuts. It has been used to gain support for the restoration of budgets that lawmakers would normally be against. The name derives from the alleged bureaucratic habit of saying that budget cuts would lead to the closure the Washington Monument.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said that tough budget decisions lie ahead. “Nobody has decided to close anything, [but] budget uncertainty is problematic for us. We’re taking a hard look at how to save money.”
If DOD’s warnings are true, however, soldiers and their families are going to have a lot less to be thankful for next Thanksgiving.
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