Report: 'Don't ask, don't tell' cost military $193.3M over five years

After the House voted to repeal the policy, the Senate took on the issue and also voted to lift the 17-year-old ban on gays in the military.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 8:28 PM

The military spent about $193.3 million from fiscal 2004 to 2009 to replace approximately 3,660 troops discharged under the policy known as "don't ask, don't tell," according to a new audit.

For those six years, it cost about $185 million to recruit and train replacement troops and $7.7 million in administrative costs. Each individual separation cost $52,800 on average, according to estimates by the Government Accountability Office published Thursday.

The findings come almost a month after President Obama signed legislation beginning the repeal process of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform. The Defense Department is expected within the next week to announce plans to train senior commanders, chaplains and the rank and file about changes to its personnel policy before officially ending "don't ask, don't tell," senior Pentagon officials said Thursday.

The report was requested by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who last year chaired a House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel and supported ending the ban. "Clearly this was the right thing to do," she said in a statement Thursday. "No longer will American taxpayers continue to pay to throw out patriotic servicemembers who want only to serve their country."

But House Republicans this week introduced a bill requiring the chiefs of all four military branches to join Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in signing off on the Pentagon's plans for repeal before the policy ends. The bill Obama signed requires that he, Gates and Mullen certify the repeal. Even if the GOP bill passes the Republican-led House, it would face stiff resistance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Of the troops discharged over the six-year period, about 39 percent held infantry or security roles or had critical foreign-language skills, the report says. Those figures appear to confirm the concerns of gay rights leaders and supportive lawmakers who faulted the military for removing highly skilled troops at an unnecessarily high expense.

"Acknowledging that the costs of this discriminatory law are likely higher, it is further evidence that the Department of Defense implement repeal expeditiously," said Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that partnered with other pro-gay organizations to end the ban.

The $193.3 million cost over six year to discharge openly gay troops is a fraction of the Pentagon's more than $600 billion annual budget.

Thursday's report updates a 2005 GAO study that could not conclusively determine the cost of discharging openly gay troops, because the Pentagon did not compile such statistics. This time, the Army and Air Force provided GAO with detailed costs associated with recruitment and training, while the Marine Corps and Navy could provide only estimates, the report says.

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