TCS Daily

Tasty Pork Chop

By Ryan Nunn - October 4, 2002 12:00 AM

A lot of nonsense seems to be passing for "national security" nowadays. Senator Ernest Hollings, for instance, has proposed a five-year, $23 billion bailout for Amtrak. Normally, this would just be good old-fashioned corporate welfare, to be haggled over in smoke-filled rooms far from the eyes of voters. Today the political climate is dramatically altered, and politicians like Hollings can disguise their pork as responsible legislation - hence the "National Defense Rail Act."

A supplemental anti-terrorism bill passed by Congress has plenty of this irrelevant funding. There's $400 million for election reform, $200 million for fighting disease abroad, $50 million for flood disaster aid, and more than a billion dollars for the National Guard.

Even President Bush has gotten on the bandwagon. Several months back he met with cattle ranchers and told them that beef was crucial to nation defense. "It's in our national security interests that we be able to feed ourselves...This nation has got to eat." I think no one would dispute the President's contention that "we must eat." What's not as clear, though, is why the words "national security" can be sprinkled over legislation like so much fairy dust, sweeping away all opposition to naked acts of special pleading.

Amidst all this blather, at least one policymaker has pointed out where Americans' true security interests lie. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has fought an uphill battle to eliminate one of the most egregious wastes of defense resources, the Crusader artillery system. After a fierce struggle, the Crusader is officially dead, but much more pork-chopping remains to be done.

Here are a few of the worst examples of Pentagon waste.

The V-22 Osprey - This tiltrotor aircraft owes its survival to Congress. The Pentagon doesn't want it. "A November 2000 report by the Pentagon's own chief weapons tester found that the Osprey was not operationally suitable because of its marginal reliability and excessive maintenance and logistics requirements." (Cato Institute) Former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney tried to kill the program back in 1989. What's more, cost inflation has been ridiculous, even by military standards: between 1986 and 2002, the unit cost went from $24 million to $85.2 million. This bird would be pushing up the daisies if Congress hadn't nailed it to its perch.

The C-17 - The C-17 transport aircraft was developed to replace the C-5 and C-141 planes. Its main advantage over these machines is its ability to fly directly from the U.S. to the battlefield, obviating the need for C-130 short-range aircraft. Unfortunately, it carries less cargo than its predecessors and is quickly becoming very expensive. Since 1999, the unit cost has increased from $246 million to $335 million. From a force requirement standpoint, it is unclear why there is a pressing need for slightly faster cargo transit. Now that the Soviet Union is gone, the U.S. no longer faces the necessity of instantly supplying its forward deployed soldiers. As became clear in Afghanistan (and will soon be in Iraq), the U.S. has the ability to set the pace and scale of foreign conflicts.

The Comanche - Changing force requirements and new advances in unmanned drones have rendered this anti-tank/reconnaissance helicopter unnecessary. The original mission - hunting Soviet tanks - is obsolete, and the Comanche program's cost ($48.1 billion, all but $5 billion of which has not yet been spent) makes it prohibitively expensive for use as a recon tool.

Every dollar spent on a pork-barrel program is one dollar less that could be used to fund transformational projects with real security benefits. Both multi-billion dollar boondoggles and petty congressional earmarks should be resisted if we are serious about fighting America's battles. To do otherwise betrays the trust of the American people.

The author is a writer living in Cleveland and co-publisher of PostPolitics.

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