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Congress asks Americans to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” about spending waste March 25, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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by Rebecca Williams and Matt Leatherman

With health care reform enacted, Congress is considering which issues will now lead its legislative agenda.  A debate on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) statute almost certainly will be among those issues.  Just today, for instance, Secretary Gates announced that “the military will no longer open investigations into the sexual orientation of service members based on anonymous complaints, will restrict testimony from third parties and will require high-ranking officers to review all cases.”

President Obama opened this issue in his State of the Union address.  “This year,” he said, “I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”  Taking the President’s cue, the Senate Armed Services Committee immediately received testimony on DADT from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen (JCS).  Memorably, Admiral Mullen expressed that he “cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” (Photo: Defense.gov)

Ethical positions such as those of the President and Chairman are vital parts of America’s cultural debate, yet in this peculiar bureaucratic context, they obscure something essential: American troops already are serving alongside openly gay individuals.  None of our principal allies in Afghanistan – the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia – share this policy of discrimination. To think, therefore, that DADT segregates openly gay individuals from interacting with American troops is simply naïve.  Indeed, its bizarre and single effect is to favor gay foreigners over gay Americans.

This preference hasn’t come cheaply, however.  A 2005 Government Accountability Office report determined that it cost American taxpayers $190.5 million over the first 10 years of DADT to discharge gay service members and train their replacements.  Looking at the more comprehensive costs, including variable rates of personnel training, a 2006 University of California Blue Ribbon Commission concluded that the actual cost of implementing DADT was closer to $363.8 million. Either way, beyond the loss of 9,488 gay service-members (GAO), all that we’ve gotten in return for these hundreds of millions of dollars is a ticket to Washington’s perpetual game of political point scoring.

The waste inherent in DADT should figure prominently in the upcoming American political discourse.  So too should its corollary, the actual cost of segregating openly gay foreign troops from interaction with their American counterparts – should Congress choose to go that route.

Fully implementing a DADT policy would require replacing all non-discriminating coalition partners and shouldering those costs ourselves.  In Afghanistan, that would include at least 21,965 troops: 9,500 from the UK, 4,335 from Germany, 3,750 from France, 2,830 from Canada, and 1,550 from Australia.  Taking outlay rates from July 2009 as an example, the U.S. obligated roughly $61,000 a month in pay and contract support for each American troop deployed to Afghanistan.  At that rate, replacing troops from these five non-discriminating countries would burden the U.S. with an additional $16.1 billion in annual costs.

Even before taking measure of its conscience, Congress therefore faces three choices.  It could, for the first time ever, meaningfully enforce DADT and accept tens of billions of dollars in new spending as a consequence.  Alternatively, we could continue buying the illusion of an effective DADT policy for a few hundred million dollars.  Or, we could accept facts as they are, both on the battlefield and in our own wallets, and jettison DADT.

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