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February 14, 2006
The Cost Of Silliness

Today's Washington Post reviews the cost associated with the turnover created by the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that protects gays in the miltary as long as they keep their mouths shut about their orientation. The Post reports on a UC Santa Barbara study that compares the cost estimates of the GAO and their own research, and determines that the GAO underestimated the cost by about 50%:

The financial costs to the U.S. military for discharging and replacing gay service members under the nation's "don't ask, don't tell" policy are nearly twice what the government estimated last year, with taxpayers covering at least $364 million in associated funds over the policy's first decade, according to a University of California report scheduled for release today.

Members of a UC-Santa Barbara group examining the cost of the policy found that a Government Accountability Office study last year underestimated the costs of firing approximately 9,500 service members between 1994 and 2003 for homosexuality. The GAO, which acknowledged difficulties in coming up with its number, estimated a cost of at least $190.5 million for the same time period. The new estimate is 91 percent higher.

Although it did not take a stance on the effectiveness of the policy, the California "blue ribbon commission" -- which included former defense secretary William J. Perry and 11 professors and defense experts -- found that the military has put millions of dollars into recruiting and training new soldiers and officers to replace those who were removed from their jobs in the services because they were openly gay. The report also cites the costs of losing service members to premature discharge, because of the loss of training "investment."

In short, it appears that the UCSB study considered the costs in the same manner as any corporation would when reviewing its turnover. Hiring costs always include recruitment, orientation, and all training conducted to bring a new hire to a fully functional level. When employees get culled out for any reason, the cost of replacement includes all of those tasks, and whether one accepts the GAO number or the UCSB number, it adds up quickly.

Interestingly, the number of people drummed out of the service during the ten years under review, around ten thousand, is less than half of the number of those who leave due to pregnancy, and less than a third of those who can't make weight. The commission that conducted the study use the data to argue for an end to the current policy and the rejection of homosexuals in the service, but I do notice that they do not use this same data to argue for an end to the induction of women. Nor do they mention any endorsement for tightening weight requirements for new recruits.

Nevertheless, I think the panel has a point about gays in the military. As Barry Goldwater remarked in his later years, the only requirement for soldiers should be whether they shoot straight. It seems like a foolish and irrational burden for the armed services to carry, one perhaps understandable when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder but hard to justify now. The costs really aren't the issue as much as the disruption caused when someone gets outed. I'm sure a few of those ten thousand may have claimed a gay orientation as a quick way out of the service, but most appear to have wanted to serve their country honorably. Without a doubt, many more remain closeted in the military now, doing their jobs without causing a problem but unable to provide the testimony to prove it.

The arguments against lifting the ban seem not only a reach, but also quite reminiscent of arguments used to delay the integration of the services. Putting gays in the ranks will break down discipline -- but no one can explain why we seem to do just fine as long as they keep quiet about their orientation. Recruitment will fall off if gays are allowed to serve -- and many said the same thing about integration, especially about gaining recruits from the South. Well, the South still serves our armed forces, continuing their long tradition of defending the nation, and the resultant integration provided a model for the rest of our country to follow.

Worst of all, the current policy is based on rank hypocrisy. It says, "We're glad to have you as long as you don't tell us what we don't want to know." It acknowledges that gays can serve effective and honorably, as long as they lie about themselves. It seems a rather twisted sense of honor would produce such a formulation. And that's no reflection on the military, but on the political leadership that forced this particular silliness on them.

Let's end the hypocrisy and admit that gays have made good soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the past and present and could contribute to our national defense in the future.

Addendum: I expect to get pilloried on this one, so feel free to fire away in the comments section.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 14, 2006 5:56 AM

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