- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

Oink oink at the Pentagon

It’s a major step forward when significant pro-defense publications such as The Washington Times express heartburn about the sorry state of financial management in the Defense Department (“Finding pork at the Pentagon,” Editorial, Thursday). That you counterpointed former Congressional Budget Office Director Dan Crippen’s Op-Ed column (“Defense Needs Auditing,” Thursday) on the need to move forward to achieve financial-management competence in the Pentagon with your own editorial will be noticed in the halls of the only major federal agency that remains unaudited and indeed unauditable.

Mr. Crippen ended with an assertion that the size and complexity of the Pentagon is not an excuse for inaction but a reason for moving ahead. Your view seems different: that being the world’s largest and most complex organization is a reason to be patient.

In fact, the Pentagon has already been indulged with decades of patience. Since the 1980s, I have been reading studies from the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense Inspector General and the Congressional Research Service about the Defense Department’s books not just failing audits but being incapable of being audited. Promises to fix the problem from both Republican and Democratic secretaries of defense are routine. Plans to get financially healthy pass through the building like the changes of the seasons. The promise of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his comptroller to pass an audit by 2007 surely will pass just as unrealized as former Secretary William J. Perry’s and his comptroller John Hamre’s did during the Clinton administration.

Why do I think President Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld are no different? In September, the GAO released two new reports showing no progress. Indeed, it found that the Pentagon had “lost visibility of” $7.1 billion appropriated to it by Congress for the war against terror. That means the Pentagon spent it but doesn’t know how, when or where.

Moreover, in Mr. Rumsfeld’s major drill for departmental “transformation,” the Quadrennial Defense Review, due out in February, needed financial-management reforms are being buried under slogans about using “best business practices.” What successful business would, or could, tolerate the same chaos in its finances as the Defense Department has permitted for the past 25 years? What competent business would tolerate it for a quarter of that time? Could The Washington Times?

The Pentagon’s financial-management incompetence has been so virulent for so long, it is inappropriate to say, as you do, that the Pentagon wants to clean up its books. The building’s actions, or lack thereof, speak louder than the words of its transient managers.

You raised very important issues, but indulgence is not a remedy.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER

Director

Straus Military Reform Project

Center for Defense Information

Washington

As a 30-plus-year military veteran who retired in 1999, I read today’s pieces about an independent audit with skepticism. I don’t think any audit can change the direction and speed of this huge, rapidly rolling ball. It just has too much inertia.

Some of my discoveries: In the Pentagon, a very common electronic diode has 14 federal stock numbers (FSNs) under which it can be ordered. Depending on which number is used, the cost is anywhere from 55 cents to just under $10. I bought one at Radio Shack for 5 cents.

I had two identical water pumps repaired — one via “the system” and one by an independent contractor who does repairs for commercial enterprises. The system charged $29,000 and took more than four months, while the independent contractor’s repair cost $3,600 and took six weeks. When I asked the contractor why he prefers not to get involved with government repairs, he stated that he doesn’t need the business badly enough to have the government “live in my back pocket constantly looking over my shoulder.” The “system” pump quit after less than six months because the wrong bearings had been installed.

Did you know that the federal recipe — military specification, or milspec — for fruitcake is more than 16 pages long? The stories go on and on. Every member of the military can spout his or her own stories.

The point of all of this is that even though there are programs such as Buy-Our-Spares-Smart (BOSS), Beneficial Suggestions and others, this is all about control. No one wants to look bad for fear of getting a “ding” on his or her fitness report. Therefore, all commanders maintain tight control of the funds over which they have authority. They do this by creating subdepartments that can be blamed should something insidious be found. Those in charge of the subdepartments will defend to the death their actions or, in most cases, lack of action.

Any thorough and complete audit of the Department of Defense, which is a great idea and long overdue, would cost millions and probably take years. But it would more than pay for itself if these issues could be addressed, solutions could be implemented and accountably could be enforced. But accountability is the subject of another story.

ROBERT SEYBOLD

Sioux Falls, S.D.

Self-determination for Kurds

Tulin Daloglu, in her Op-Ed column “Iraqi Kurds and Turkey” (Tuesday), is simply too much the Turkish superpatriot, a role she is entitled to play, but not without challenge.

Turkey has much of which to be proud without her also defending its errors. As an American, I don’t hesitate to fault American errors, beginning with President Wilson promising the Kurds self-determination in his Fourteen Points Speech in 1918 and then selling them out. They were partitioned among the Turks, Persians and a British mandate combining Sunni Kurds and Shia Arabs, to be ruled by a royal imported from Mecca as a British go-between.

Sunni Arabs are not a historic and traditional people of what is now Iraq. Most are camp followers and their descendants, who have come in via Istanbul and Mecca.

The U.S. Congress rejected the scheme, but it in went into force anyway. It was not until May 5, 1945, that President Truman — not President Franklin D. Roosevelt — had self-determination placed in the U.N. Charter. It has remained ever since as a principle of international law, recognized by all but not accepted by many except when it is convenient to do so.

Self-determination is a modern principle that there are distinct peoples living in distinct territories and that no one people should rule another in the latter’s historic and traditional territory without the latter’s consent.

Thus, the two historic peoples of what is now Iraq, the Sunni Kurds in the north and the Shia Arabs in the south, should each rule its own territory. Each wants eventually to have a state of its own. The recently devised constitution is a step in that direction. It is the same direction in which Europe moved from a Christendom at war with itself into a peaceful collection of independent secular states, finally settling down and agreeing to live alongside each other in their historic territories.

Turkey should join that club as an independent Turkish state and eventually allow a Kurdish state and a Shia Arab state to join as well. Hopefully, the European Union could become a European-West Asian Union, extending its independent states to the border of India, with Iran and Pakistan also breaking up along ethno-national lines.

Such a powerful union would be a proper counterpoise for the United States, India and China, thereby giving the distinct peoples of West Asia the weight and world influence they deserve.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Let us support self-determination for each people so that conflicts become mainly border conflicts between distinct peoples rather than all-out wars between two or more peoples.

The Greeks and Turks set a good example for this when they solved their perennial fighting in 1923 by a satisfactory border settlement that has endured to the benefit of both. Major powers — the United States, China and Germany — should take the lead in encouraging such a peaceful solution.

WALT LANDRY

Executive director

Think-tank for National

Self-determination Inc.

Arlington

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