DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
April 11, 1995

AN IOWA DEFENSE REFORMER FIGHTS A LONELY BATTLE

Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, recently told his senate colleagues that Defense Secretary William J. Perry has "$33 billion in costs that can't be tracked."

Grassley, who with pit bull ferocity ferrets out and then hangs on to Pentagon fraud, waste and abuse, says, "Perry knows the $33 billion was spent," but "doesn't know what it bought. All he knows for sure is the $33 billion went out the door. It could have been stolen."

Not one national news agency reported this incredible story. Yet it was openly told on the floor of the Senate. Perhaps the reporters on watch that day thought Grassley -- who is one of the few U.S. senators trying to keep the Pentagon honest -- was talking Monopoly money or the distance in miles between the earth and the planet Rip-Us-Off. Or perhaps they, like most of the citizens in this zonked-out land, just couldn't break away from the O.J. show long enough to focus on the Pentagon monster that is doing a royal number on America.

The conservative senator from Iowa has been trying since the 1980s to wake up America. His goal: to insure the Pentagon spends your and my tax dollars "wisely and according to the law" and that we get a "full and accurate accounting."

Grassley has taken a lot of heat, mainly from fellow Republicans, who in his words, "think defense is some kind of sacred cow." A cow that's been well-milked for too long by both pork-addicted Republicans and Democrats who have long forgotten they were elected to serve the people, not themselves.

In 1985, a Grassley initiative stopped Reagan's massive and unneeded military spend-up dead in its tracks, but not before it rained taxpayer dollars down on the defense establishment like a giant plum-filled eagle with diarrhea.

Reagan splattered $3 trillion on the Pentagon. Billions were flat wasted. For example, the $39 billion spent on Star Wars did nothing before it was ditched except make fat cats fatter; $13 billion was blown on the Sgt. York Division Air Defense System, which became world infamous when it "locked on" a Fort Bliss latrine fan rather than a simulated enemy aircraft. It too was quietly dispatched to the wonder weapon graveyard.

What converted Grassley were such horror stories and the 1980s spare parts scandals -- remember the $7,000 coffeepots and the $600 hammers? Convinced Reagan's defense buildup was a "colossal taxpayer rip-off," he nominated himself the Senate's No. 1 watchdog.

To win bi-partisan support in his campaign to clean up the Pentagon, Grassley recently kicked off a series of talks designed to educate his Senate peers about the inability of the Department of Defense to account for money. He said in his lectures, "The Pentagon has an insatiable appetite for more money, so more money is not the answer. Instead, we must press hard for better management, accurate information and accountability."

Grassley says that Pentagon bookkeeping is "in a shambles. If we don't know what we bought last year and how much it cost, it will be impossible to figure out what we need next year."

He hammers the theme that financial controls are disconnected within the Pentagon, making it "easy to steal" defense dollars. He cites the case of two thieves who stole millions of defense dollars. Grassley says, "Both men were able to tap into the Department of Defense money pipe with ease. They operated undetected for a number of years. And they were not detected because of internal audits or tight controls; they were caught by chance because of their outrageous behavior.

"One was a low level accountant. He was literally living like a king. His neighbors thought he was dealing drugs and turned him in. The other submitted 32 invoices on a phantom ship."

No wonder the Pentagon is always waving a tin cup asking for more, while our warriors don't have money to train or maintain a razor sharp readiness level.

Grassley's fighting a lonely campaign to stop the crooks, and he needs all the help he can get. Perhaps, with your encouragement, other senators -- who, believe it or not, are your servants -- will join his brave effort to clean up the Pentagon.