Congress and Defense Costs

WHAT Republicans have been saying in every recent national political campaign must be true: Cost does not register with Democrats. How else to explain a 206-page report from the House Armed Services Committee, under Democratic control, that reviews high-level military training and education yet ignores the publicized extravagances in that system.

Gens. George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower concluded from their experiences in World War II that the United States should have only one war college - attended by officers from all the armed forces so as to inculcate a national rather than a narrow, self-serving service outlook.

The military bureaucracies so successfully undercut the Marshall-Eisenhower program that today there are four senior service schools spread over six installations, five of them small, high-cost bases. The principal land use of these bases is in 81 holes of golf, several recreational lakes, and a variety of other country-club style facilities serving only 10,000 mostly wealthy military personnel.

All that is small potatoes compared to the electronic war-gaming systems the separate and competing military colleges have developed. The initial cost of each in terms of hardware and sanitized buildings is high enough, but the software is plainly out of control. At least in the three war colleges still under service control, the software is programmed with convenient assumptions so as to guarantee no conflict with service budgetary objectives.

Somehow, in the six months spent visiting the schools, the Armed Services Committee overlooked the burgeoning, outrageous war-gaming problem entirely.

Cost emerges as a factor in the report's last of seven ``panel criteria.'' The preceding six criteria get several paragraphs. The cost factor gets two lines. The next mention of cost indicates all 81 of those golf holes will be retained - at even greater taxpayer expense.

There is a highly suspect chart reporting Army War College costs per student as $47,000 per year despite figures released in 1981 of a cost well over $100,000.

That the authors of the report knew something was amiss is indicated by the final mention of cost, the sole mention of cost reduction, in which the panel suggests, ``The Army should review the rationale for separate geographic locations [of its war colleges] to ensure that this arrangement best satisfies the education needs of Army officers and is worth the high cost....''

This timid, reverential attitude toward military hierarchies characterizes the report throughout. It obscures the fact that the high Army costs are only the tip of an iceberg. No small part of the rest of that iceberg is, in fact, about as visible as you can get. None less than the President of the United States uses it as a jogging path. It is Fort McNair on the banks of the Potomac, perhaps the most expensive jogging path on earth.

Fort McNair was once home to the Army War College. Generals Marshall and Eisenhower disestablished the Army school and turned the facilities over to the National War College. Instead, the Army resurrected its war college at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. When Carlisle Barracks, Pa., was threatened with closure, the Army, under pressure from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, moved the war college to Carlisle, creating the cost problem noted, albeit in muted terms, by the Armed Services Committee.

The upshot is that Carlisle Barracks is now more modern and less expensive than Fort McNair.

Fort McNair's parade ground was converted long ago into a nine-hole golf course - real estate worth half a billion dollars in 1982.

So any ordinary citizen who can add and subtract would have reason to conclude that a billion dollars could be saved right off by selling Fort McNair, consolidating the National War College and other scattered elements of the National Defense University at Carlisle, and replacing the self-serving service war games with a common, honest, joint service gaming system administered by the National War College.

This report is another indication of the disconnection between Congress and the concerns of the ordinary citizen. There are many excellent suggestions in the report, but they will be meaningless until the Armed Services Committee and Congress see that cost reduction is the central issue.

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