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Editor’s note: A formidable force and the giving gap

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A friend called me the other day to ask me what I thought about the Montgomery County Council’s short-lived resolution to spend less on wars and redirect funds to social programs.

Don’t they know the county is one of the biggest beneficiaries of defense spending, and home to Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest defense contractor? he asked.

They do now, I said, after reading how the resolution was ultimately withdrawn.

The episode got me thinking, though. How are we doing turning all that contracting largess into plowshares?

Every week we chronicle on our philanthropy page efforts by local businesses to give back, many of them government contractors. And it is hard to miss the buzz being generated by Carlyle Group’s co-founder Bill Conway, as he seeks charitable ideas for spending $1 billion.

Still, we read story after story about this group or another needing funds.

So there’s a disconnect somewhere.

There’s plenty of explanations for this. Times are tough all over. On this same page is a commentary about the need to plug the hole that is forming as the housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pull back on their charity.

Their withdrawal also leaves the region with a leadership gap. Ours is a diverse economy. That our largest industry revolves around the federal government is no secret. It is a community that sometimes seems to operate in a kind of parallel universe, with its own argot and customs. Even its calendar is different; Christmas for so many businesses falls in the weeks before the turn of the federal fiscal year, on Oct. 1. Don’t believe it? Just check out the list we published last week of all the million-dollar-plus contracts let in our area.

I stopped by the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last week to check out the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting and exhibition. The place was packed and the business crowd inside was familiar to anyone who walks the streets of Washington — lots of dark suits and shiny shoes. Theirs is a uniform that represents a formidable force.

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