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Posted at 09:13 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Budget briefings offer a lesson in Pentagon-ese

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, right, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress on the Pentagon’s budget on Tuesday. Their testimony was lighter on the acronyms than the briefings by Pentagon officials on Monday. (Mark Wilson — Getty Images)
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a rarity in the Pentagon: He’s professionally trained in the English language, with a master’s degree from Duke University to certify his literacy.

But Gen. Dempsey, who took office in September, is probably finding that his graduate education is worthless when it comes to communicating in the Pentagon’s lingua franca, a peculiar mix of acronyms and bureaucratese that is utterly incomprehensible to outsiders.

On Monday, a parade of military brass and civil servants marched into the Pentagon Briefing Room to explain to reporters the details of the Obama administration’s proposed budget for the Defense Department next year. Even in a building that is world-renowned for gobbledygook and doubletalk, the official briefers set a new standard for heroic obfuscation in the line of duty.

Here are some of the more breathtaking examples, from the official Department of Defense transcript:

REPORTER: And can you say a word about UUVs?

REAR ADM JOSEPH P. MULLOY, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget: Oh, yes, sir. Once again, taking out 58 billion, is hard to not have some adjustments. But the bottom line, we maintain our BAMS. The MRUAS program was terminated, because as we looked at what we have to provide to ground forces, support to SOF, and naval needs -- the B2AV, as it moves from the B to the C model, and supporting the SOF requirements for that -- was felt that was enough in terms of what we need there.


REPORTER: Yes, Mrs. Bonessa, you said that there were eight program cancellations, but you only said -- listed five. What are the other three?

BARBARA BONESSA, Deputy Director, Army Budget: Oh, I -- yes, I only listed the largest ones. Let me flip back to -- let’s see, I listed EMARSS, HMMWV recap, FMTV, managed soldier system, JPALS-- Davis?

MR. DAVIS : Long-range LRAS 3 and –

REPORTER: You’ll have to repeat that.

MR. DAVIS: LRAS 3. Ms. Bonessa?

MAJ. GEN. PHILLIP MCGHEE, Director, Army Budget: Long-Range Advance Scout Surveillance Systems.

STAFF: And Knight Under Armor.

MS. BONESSA: There we go, thank you.

GEN. MCGHEE: The Knight Targeting Under Armor for 300 million.

MS. BONESSA: Thank you.


REPORTER: The budget documents state that the service is extending DMSP with the cancellation of DWSS. What exactly does that mean?

MAJ. GEN. EDWARD BOLTON, JR., Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Budget: That means that -- well, we already have DMSP 18 and 19 built. They’re on the ground. They’ll require a little bit of work and they’ll be -- then they’ll be launched. And so that gives you more time with the current systems that you have. We have 2 million in this year’s budget to do -- and that’s a -- to do an AOA.

By  |  09:13 AM ET, 02/15/2012

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