Posts tagged ‘Defense Department’

If Parks Stayed Open, No One Would Notice The Government Shutdown

For several days now I have been highlighting article after article (here and here) where the only service downside of the government shutdown anyone can come up with is the closure of parks.  Here is another example, from the AP entitled "Lawmakers feeling heat from Government Shutdown".  Its all parks:

Some 800,000 federal workers deemed nonessential were staying home again Wednesday in the first partial shutdown since the winter of 1995-96.

Across the nation, America roped off its most hallowed symbols: the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty in New York, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Washington Monument.

Its natural wonders — the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Smoky Mountains and more — put up “Closed” signs and shooed campers away.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he was getting pleas from businesses that rely on tourists. “The restaurants, the hotels, the grocery stores, the gasoline stations, they’re all very devastated with the closing of the parks,” he said.

The far-flung effects reached France, where tourists were barred from the U.S. cemetery overlooking the D-Day beaches at Normandy. Twenty-four military cemeteries abroad have been closed.

Only 22,000 of those 800,000 run parks.  Apparently none of the others do anything we will miss.  Oh, they come up with one new one:

Even fall football is in jeopardy. The Defense Department said it wasn’t clear that service academies would be able to participate in sports, putting Saturday’s Army vs. Boston College and Air Force vs. Navy football games on hold, with a decision to be made Thursday.

Eek!  I joke about this but I fear that today this is going to bite me right in the butt.  Our company operates campgrounds on land we lease from the US Forest Service.  Since we pay all expenses of the operation, take no government money, and employ no government workers, we have never closed in a shutdown and the US Forest Service confirmed at noon yesterday we would not have to close this time.  But apparently someone above the US Forest Service somewhere in the Administration is proposing to reverse this, and illegally close us.  My guess is that they realize parks are the only thing the public misses, and so the Administration trying to see if it can close more of them, even ones that are operated privately and off the government budget.

Update:  This is very similar to what is happening in DC.  By trying to close us, the USFS is actually costing themselves more money (since we pay rent to them based on our revenues) with the only goal being to make the closure worse.  The Administration has ordered the same thing to occur in DC parks, where they are spending far more money "closing" monuments than they do just having them open all the time

Yesterday, the sight of a group of World War II veterans storming the barricaded monument built in their honor in Washington, D.C., became the buzzworthy moment from the first day of our federal shutdown.  The open-air, unmanned outdoor memorial had been barricaded to keep people from "visiting" due to the government shutdown, though there was no real (as in “non-political”) reason to have done so. Barricades certainly wouldn’t prevent vandals from busting in there at night if they wanted to. It was an absurd, petty move.

This morning, Charlie Spiering of the Washington Examiner returned to the memorial to find a gaggle of “essential” government workers there to barricade it once again. He tweeted that the employees fled after cameras started filming them working, but then came back to attach “closed” signs. A couple of them appear to be talking to the media. The barricades are apparently there, but have not been tied together and are therefore easily removed.

Shame On Executives For Flying Private Jets...

...only those of us in Congress get to fly private jets

Congress plans to spend $550 million to buy eight jets, a substantial upgrade to the fleet used by federal officials at a time when lawmakers have criticized the use of corporate jets by companies receiving taxpayer funds.

The purchases will help accommodate growing travel demand by congressional officials. The planes augment a fleet of about two dozen passenger jets maintained by the Air Force for lawmakers, administration officials and military chiefs to fly on government trips in the U.S. and abroad.

The congressional shopping list goes beyond what the Air Force had initially requested as part of its annual appropriations. The Pentagon sought to buy one Gulfstream V and one business-class equivalent of a Boeing 737 to replace aging planes. The Defense Department also asked to buy two additional 737s that were being leased.

Lawmakers in the House last week added funds to buy those planes, and plus funds to buy an additional two 737s and two Gulfstream V planes. The purchases must still be approved by the Senate. The Air Force version of the Gulfstream V each costs $66 million, according to the Department of Defense, and the 737s cost about $70 million.

Even the richest of private companies blush at the prospect of buying Gulfstream V jets, the absolute top of the line in business jet luxury.  Except, of course, for the ridiculously oversized Boeing Business Jet, of which Congress appears to be buying 3 (the BBJ is the business version of the 737).  I am sure there is one, but I can't think of a single Fortune 500 company, and I have worked for and with a lot of them and flown on their jets, that has even one BBJ.

I can understand why certain officials need to fly private planes just for security, but the average Congressman from Wyoming?  Why won't commercial work.  Andy why, if they must have  a private plane, wouldn't a more reasonably sized Falcon 50 or Citation work just as well?

Update: Several people have found it ironic that the White House threw a fit over $300+ million for funding of new warplanes but hasn't blinked over $500+ million to ferry Congress around in luxury.

Update #2: An example of the BBJ.  This is how you fly, right?

boeing_bbj_int1_lg

Great Report on Earmarks

The Seattle Times has done a ton of work on earmarks, and has a report here.  Nothing here will be much of a surprise for earmark critics.  This was probably my favorite bit:

Last year, Congress promised to shed light on the secretive process. But the lists of earmarks are still buried in obscure documents that are difficult to find and search. Until Congress put them online a couple of weeks ago, the House disclosure letters, linking lawmakers to companies, were thick volumes of paper kept in a cabinet in the offices of the House Appropriations Committee.

When a reporter for the Congressional Quarterly pointed out how difficult it remains to pull all the information together, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the committee that drafts the defense bill, had a quick answer: "Tough shit."

Murtha, for those who don't know, consistently leads the earmarking numbers, and came in #1 among Congressmen in reaping campaign donations from earmark recipients, bringing in over $1.6 million.  They have a database here where you can look up your Congressman (mine, John Shadegg, was one of the few with zero).  My sense is that this database is only from the military appropriation and that there are many more earmarks hidden out there in other bills, but it is a good start.  (hat tip Hit and Run)

The new, but not surprising, information for me was how Congress easily sidesteps the new disclosure rules.

After months of investigating the $459 billion 2008 defense bill, The Times found:

  • The hidden $3.5 billion included 155 earmarks, among them the most costly in the bill. Congress disclosed 2,043 earmarks worth $5 billion.
  • The House broke the new rules at least 110 times by failing to disclose who was getting earmarks, making it difficult for the public to judge whether the money is being spent wisely.
  • In at least 175 cases, senators did not list themselves in Senate records as earmark sponsors, appearing more fiscally responsible. But they told a different story to constituents back home in news releases, claiming credit for the earmarks and any new jobs.

The Times includes several irritating but entertaining stories of rent-seeking.  Take Cyberlux, for example.  What do you do when your company has sunk $50 million into a new product, has a $18 million a year burn rate, and only has $300,000 is revenues for the first six months of the year?  Why, you call your Congressman and generate revenues via earmarks, with a quick thank you in the form of company-sponsored fundraising for said representative.

And this certainly is a feel-good story for those rooting for the government to re-engineer the American auto industry:

Latrobe Specialty Steel of Latrobe, 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, makes specialty steel for aircraft parts.
In 2006, its parent company, Timken, spent $2.9 million lobbying Congress on various issues and persuaded lawmakers to ban the Defense Department from buying any products using foreign-made specialty steel. As the sole U.S. producer of certain kinds of specialty steel, Latrobe saw its orders climb. Timken then sold Latrobe to a group of investors in a $250 million deal.

But the buy-American restrictions for specialty steel caused serious problems for the Air Force, creating a 17-month lag in getting spare parts for aircraft used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In May 2007, Latrobe said it needed to expand but complained of high electric bills and publicly threatened to build a new plant in Virginia or West Virginia instead. Pennsylvania offered grants and tax credits to the company worth $1.2 million.

In Congress, lawmakers were quietly lining up a much sweeter package.

In the defense bill passed in December, someone had inserted language that ultimately directed $18.4 million for "domestic expansion of essential vacuum induction melting furnace capacity and vacuum arc remelting furnace capacity."

"Latrobe Specialty Steel is the only domestic producer of that steel," Army Lt. Gen. William Mortensen said at a hearing.

A month after the bill passed, Latrobe began a $62 million expansion in its home state.

No one in Congress has admitted sponsoring the Latrobe earmark.

One congressman's fingerprints, however, weren't so easy to conceal. Latrobe sits in the congressional district of Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat who chairs the subcommittee that drafts the defense bill and wields the most power over defense earmarks.

Latrobe's officials have given $5,000 to Murtha's re-election fund in the past two years.

Also, Murtha had talked about giving taxpayer dollars to Latrobe. "We're trying to get together to see how we can work out an increased capacity for that particular company," Murtha said at a subcommittee hearing in April 2007. "I've talked to that producer. And what I'd like to see is them put some money in, us put some money in, and reduce the time it takes to get those spare parts out."...

The company would not comment on any discussions it had with Murtha. A spokeswoman defended getting the grant, saying it had been competitively bid. Even so, she acknowledged that Latrobe is the sole U.S. producer of certain specialty steels, a requirement for getting the money.

What a Jerk

Via ABC News, comes this story of Congressman Randall Cunningham:

Prosecutors call it a corruption case with no parallel in the long
history of the U.S. Congress. And it keeps getting worse. Convicted
Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham actually priced the illegal services he
provided.

Prices came in the form of a "bribe menu" that detailed how much it
would cost contractors to essentially order multimillion-dollar
government contracts, according to documents submitted by federal
prosecutors for Cunningham's sentencing hearing this Friday....

The card shows an escalating scale for bribes, starting at $140,000
and a luxury yacht for a $16 million Defense Department contract. Each
additional $1 million in contract value required a $50,000 bribe.

The rate dropped to $25,000 per additional million once the contract went above $20 million.

Better Late Than Never

Via Instapundit comes the separation of powers is slowly starting to work, with the Senate starting to reign in the Administration:

In a break with the White House, the Republican-controlled Senate
overwhelmingly approved a measure Wednesday that would set standards for the
military's treatment of detainees, a response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and
other allegations that U.S. soldiers have abused prisoners.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a victim of torture while a prisoner during the
Vietnam War, won approval of the measure that would make interrogation
techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual the standard for handling
detainees in Defense Department custody and prohibit "cruel, inhuman or
degrading" treatment of U.S.-held prisoners.

Its good to see Congress getting off its butt and seeing it stop relying on the Supreme Court to deal with these issues.  I thought this was overdue a while back when I posted this.

Of course GWB, who is the only president in history to go 5 years without vetoing anything, is threatening a veto of this sensible regulation:

The White House has threatened to veto the $440 billion military spending
bill to which the measure was attached, and Vice President Dick Cheney has
lobbied to defeat the detainee measure. White House spokesman Scott McClellan
objected that the measure would "limit the president's ability as
commander-in-chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism."

Uh, how?  Glenn Reynolds responds:

This resistance seems to me to be a mistake. First -- as Lamar
Alexander noted on the Senate floor, in a passage I heard on NPR
earlier this morning -- it is very much the Congress's responsibility
to make decisions like this; the President might do so in the first
instance, but we've been at war for more than four years and Congress
is actually doing its job late, not jumping in to interfere. If the
White House thinks that the Senate's approach is substantively wrong,
it should say so, but presenting it as simply an interference with the
President's Commander-in-Chief powers is wrong. Congress is entitled,
and in fact obligated, to set standards of this sort. It's probably
also better politically for the White House, since once the legislation
is in place complaints about what happened before look a bit ex post facto.

Perhaps current practices are producing a treasure trove of
intelligence that this bill would stop, but I doubt that -- and if I'm
wrong, the Administration should make that case to Congress, not stand
on executive prerogatives. And this bill seems to be just what I was calling for
way back when -- a sensible look at the subject by responsible people,
freed of the screeching partisanship that has marked much of the
discussion in the punditsphere. That should be rewarded, not blown off.

A Bush veto of this measure is likely to touch off the perfect political storm within his own party.  This would make the trifecta of alienation from the more sober parts of the Republican Party, following on his profligate spending tendencies as revealed post-Katrina and his cronyism as reveled first at FEMA and now with his recent Supreme Court nomination.