Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Double Standard

Once again I'm astounded at the way the U.S. Government allows itself to function. Today's cause for amazement is an article with this delightful title:
Pentagon accidentally sent nuclear missile parts to Taiwan
Seems that, back in 2006, Taiwan ordered some spare batteries for helicopters from the Defense Logistics Agency, a separate government unit which has a warehouse in Utah for unclassified material. This seems normal. However, the shipping containers they actually got contained four electrical fuses for ICBM nose cones. These are the triggers that make a nuclear missile go "boom" (they're not nuclear themselves).

What bothers me is that the DLA doesn't seem to know how this happened. The Air Force had shipped the fuses to the DLA for storage, in 2005. The fuses, being part of a nuclear weapon, should have been stored in a classified warehouse. Also, they should have been accounted for in regular quarterly audits. Helicopter batteries, of course, are not classified and should have been in a different warehouse. And yet, when the time came to ship copter batteries to Taiwan, the boxes they pulled out had classified nuclear weapons parts in them. I think this constitutes having "lost" the nuclear triggers.

Any business that operated like this would have been toast years ago; but apparently the U.S. Government can continue to bumble on uninterrupted. Can these people even count??

1 comment:

  1. Hedera: I worked for the Federal Government for 27 years, so I have a different perspective on this than you do.

    People think of our Federal Government as a stable, fixed entity, unfettered by the suasions of the marketplace, or of special interest(s).

    I've got news for you: That's not how it is.

    Our Federal Government's workplace is a spoils system. Since those in power aren't paid to manage businesses in the interests of profit, they tend to regard the government itself, and how it works--its agencies, managers, tasks, mandates--as a toy of policy debate, as a political entity, and as a source for exploitation.

    Take the EPA, for instance. If you're a Senator, and being paid by big pharmaceuticals, or by a coal-firing plant corporation, or by a mining company dropping heavy metals into the ground water in Utah, you're conflicted. On the one hand, you're elected by your constituency to protect the environment, the jobs, and the tax revenues of the people you "govern". Your secret agenda is to see to it that the EPA doesn't curtail the activities of the industries which pay for your new boat, or your daughter's Swiss education. But you can't be seen to be promoting pollution. So what do you do? You lean on the EPA: Cut their budget. Force the administrators to delay research and divert unfavorable reports. Contract out important projects to "private industry" (the very folks who're supposed to be regulated), etc., etc. If you're a well-intentioned bloke working at a GS13 job at the EPA, the message is clear: Lay off that mining company in Utah.

    Just who is the "Defense Logistics Agency" and who is running it? How is their budget formulated, and what is the competence level of the staff? Maybe they've "contracted out" the transport and storage functions to a private company. Maybe the guys who do the actual manipulation of the material are, say, GS-4's, guys who may not even have high school educations. Defense has a reputation for being very cavalier about their stuff: Millions of dollars of goods just seem to "disappear" every year, ending up as wholesale de-accession, at discount rates. There's so much of it. My office landlord is an army-navy surplus dealer, and you wouldn't believe the stories he tells. This has been a scandal since well before WWI.

    When they talk about $200 screwdrivers, they aren't kidding. Guess what we are spending our money on in Iraq. How much do you suppose it costs to have a coke dispensing machine in the "Green Zone" in Baghdad. And what do you think will happen to that Coke machine when it's no longer needed: It will either be re-bought from the Coca-Cola Corporation, returned to it for free, or sold by a shady wholesaler who'll basically get it for nothing. It will probably cost the taxpayer $150,000 to service this machine over the brief life of its utility during wartime. This is what makes our "little wars" so expensive.

    If you want to be depressed, and disappointed, dig a little deeper into the corruption of civil service. When you pull back the curtain, the wizard will be just another guy pushing buttons for the light show.

    "A savage servility slides by on grease...." --Robert Lowell ('For the Union Dead')