David H. Hackworth
February 1, 1994


"The American armed forces are the best in the world." Vice President Al Gore recently told audience in Milwaukee. I agree, but they may not stay that way for long. Their combat readiness is falling faster than a paratrooper whose chute won't open.

If this free fall continues, we'll soon have a hollow Army like we had before World War II and Korea, a force that paid the price in blood in the early days of those conflicts.

There's an enemy out there attacking readiness, a foe based not in Iran, Iraq or North Korea, but in our own capital. The conspirators are those key congressmen who are forcing the Pentagon to spend money in ways that are good for the legislators' hometowns, districts and states, but bad for our defenders.

What is happening is that these congressmen are attaching non-defense-related, pork-barrel spending measures to defense appropriation legislation.

Since the Cold War ended, defense dollars have been harder to get than a ride aboard the space shuttle. Now these shrinking dollars are being siphoned off at an unprecedented rate, not on the basis of military necessity, but for congressional pork ranging from museums to sports jamborees.

In 1993. such nonmilitary perks used up nearly 2 percent of the defense budget.. This is plain old all-American pork that has as much to do with combat, readiness as ballet lessons do to basic training These seams slopped $4.6 billion that should have been spent for defense into congressional troughs to feed the voters who keep the porkers in office, according to a General Accounting Office report.

Meanwhile, out in our life-and- death combat units, war-fighting equipment is being grounded because there's insufficient money to buy spare parts to keep the hardware running; to buy ammo for our warriors to practice their shooting skills; or to buy fuel to maneuver ships, tanks and aircraft on training exercises.

Every dollar for defense must be spent to improve combat efficiency. Our soldiers are again being placed at high risk because they soon won't have the right stuff to meet an enemy and destroy him. It could cause another Mogadishu-like defeat, but this time it won't be because a few tanks weren't available; rather it will be because air squadrons, fighting ships and combat battalions won't be ready or able to get there quickly.

The 1994 kings of congressional pork are Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, but there are dozens of others who, behind closed doors, add on and earmark their own favorite parochial projects, turning military beef into blubber.

Because of such shenanigans, money meant for the Pentagon, not the Department of Health and Human Services, is being spent on such things as breast cancer research ($230,000), AIDS research ($160 million) and bone marrow research ($37 million), according to the GAO report. Billions more are being spent on projects that have nothing to do with war-fighting.

Murtha has scored the biggest hits: $70 million for the University of Pittsburgh, $50 million for a National Drug Intelligence Center in his hometown and $65 million for Centers for Metalworking and Environmental Excellence.

Inouye snagged $6 million to test electric cars and build an observatory to study volcanoes.

Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., earmarked $4 million for a Japanese-American museum and $1.6 million to refit a submarine for another Oregon museum.

In recent years, $36.6 million has been added to the Pentagon budget for athletic events such as the Goodwill Games.

The American people should take a few scalps in the 1994 elections. That would send a message to Congress that our forces won't be condemned to body bags because of the porkers' malfeasance.

The permanent cure for this is to open all defense appropriations meetings to the public, that projects not requested by the Pentagon be "red-flagged" and that the president be able to veto them on a line-item basis. Then he can cut the pork and list the names of the porkers so the public can chop them up in the next election. Better they become casualties than our troops.