The generals and admirals seem to think that what's good for the Pentagon is good for the country. My associate Tony Capaccio has dug up an example of this self-serving attitude.
The amount of money involved wasn't great in the context of Pentagon budgets. It amounted to $27,760. But the expenditure was of questionable legality, according to the auditors of the General Accounting Office. Here's what happened:
On May 31, the House was scheduled for a midnight vote on the MX missile. The Democrats wanted to be sure that Congress retained strict control over the controversial weapons program; the Pentagon opposed this move.
So Weinberger's wastrels put the Air Force's airlift unit to work to bring back six loyal Republicans who would vote for the administration. As authority for this political shuttle, they claimed the flights were "in connection with official business."
Though the Defense Department traditionally has leeway in authorizing such transportation, the GAO auditors concluded that this vote-hustling airlift "strains the limits of permissible administrative discretion."
It also strained whatever faith anyone might have had in the Pentagon's ability to anticipate the vote count on Capitol Hill. The vote wasn't close: 298 to 98 against the Pentagon. So the six House members who were flown to Washington for the midnight vote could have stayed in bed.
As for the three members who were in Washington and were flown home by the Air Force after the vote, one can only conclude that the Pentagon was hoping to ingratiate itself by providing a free plane ride.
According to the GAO auditors, the flights that cost the government $27,760 could have been made on commercial airlines for about one-10th as much: $2,798.
The biggest share, $11,920, was used to ferry Rep. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) from Midland to Washington and back to Waco. The Air Force fare for Rep. John S. McCain III (R-Ariz.) was $4,472 to fly him home after the vote. If he had flown commercial, it would have cost the taxpayers $425.
The Air Force fetched Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) from a speaking engagement in St. Paul and flew him back for the futile vote at a cost of $2,194. The GAO said a commercial flight would have cost $249.
It cost $2,271 to fly Rep. William W. Franklin (R-Miss.) to Washington from Greenville, instead of the $325 a commercial flight would have cost; $1,976 for Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) to be flown from Grand Rapids, instead of $169 commercial; $2,506 to take Rep. Donald K. Sundquist (R-Tenn.) home to Nashville, instead of $204, and $710 to fly Rep. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. (R-S.C.) to Myrtle Beach, instead of $388.
Several House members, including Dannemeyer and Sundquist, said commercial flights were not available.