A Senate committee's staff report has called for a full overhaul of the Pentagon. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) said the system there is broken and needs fixing. That's arguable. Beyond dispute yesterday was that one of the Pentagon's flagpoles was broke and needed fixing.
Ordinarily, two flags fly proudly outside the river entrance to the Defense Department colossus. Yesterday, the more westerly of the poles was bereft of its banner.
Why? According to the GSA's Federal Protective Service police, who raise and lower the flags, the flanged wheel over which the flag rope loops at the top of the pole was broken. It'll be fixed, probably faster than the Pentagon hierarchy.
Which brings us to some other flag items:
* The Veterans Administration has a new, larger and more translucent flag atop its Vermont Avenue headquarters. It looks splendid!
* Alas, the flag that flies over The Washington Post's Southeast production plant is in tatters. ("If you run an item about it," publisher Donald E. Graham responded when I told him yesterday, "I won't have to do anything about it.")
* A few weeks ago, Metro Scene barbed three buildings on 15th Street NW, among them this newspaper's main plant, for failure to display the flag on a nice day. The item brought a pained retort from Donald R. Payne of The Post's security staff, a former Marine, who said he first raised and later lowered the flag -- in keeping with his understanding of flag law and etiquette -- when he learned a storm was forecast. Later rainfall was minor.
Who was right -- Metro Scene or Payne? Some of both.
Federal law, enacted in 1942 but later amended, says, "The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed." The law is silent on the difference between a fair-weather and an all-weather flag. One suspects that most contemporary flags, containing strong synthetic fibers, can be considered in the latter category.
George F. Cahill of the National Flag Foundation in Pittsburgh couldn't provide an answer. "Ask your politicians in Washington," he said. But he did note that Army posts display small, almost postage-stamp-sized "storm flags" as well as standard garrison and large ceremonial flags.
I've seen them all at Fort Myer, where the morning display of the storm flag is a visual weather forecast.
In any event, nobody can be punished for violating most aspects of flag etiquette. A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Atlanta has found that the law saying how the flag "should" be displayed is "merely declaratory or advisory . . . . and indicative of lack of penal purpose."