Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't hate the player, hate the game

If you're worried about the military spending money on beer and snacks for members of Congress on overseas trips, then don't just push for members to disclose expenditures of their uniformed escorts -- put an end to Congressional boondoggles altogether (or stop using senior servicemembers to book travel and do other logistics work for you)!

Military officials bought thousands of dollars worth of alcohol, food and other amenities for the U.S. lawmakers they accompanied on trips overseas, travel records viewed by The Wall Street Journal show.

The documents don't show these outlays have secured any favors or favoritism from lawmakers. And the funds spent by military personnel—which ran about $4,300 per trip for the 43 trips examined by the Journal—usually account for only a small portion of the total lawmakers spend on overseas travel.

Instead, the records shed light for the first time on how the military exploits its official escort role on these trips to foster relationships with lawmakers who approve departmental budgets and top appointments. The disclosures also underscore the military's pervasive pursuit of congressional access.

Indeed, the military aides who accompany lawmakers overseas are usually the same people who lobby Congress at home; their offices are in buildings shared with lawmakers.

If you think that O-6s go to Wal-Mart to buy Oreos for Chris Dodd so that FCS will get funded, as part of a "pervasive pursuit of congressional access," you're out of your damn mind. Military liaisons to Congress are professionals doing a job they've been told to do; you'd see the exact same behavior if they were escorting general officers instead of members of Congress. (Hell, you'd see the same behavior if they were escorting American mayors who had nothing to offer them!) Here's the opinion of someone close to me who has been on Congressional travel:
The escorts see Member travel as an opportunity to demonstrate excellence, and in so doing build confidence and rapport. Admittedly, in the wacky world of Congress, confidence and rapport can lead to funding, but can you begrudge the military for wanting to demonstrate core capabilities to decision makers? I particularly hate the use of the word “exploits” in the original quote; any number of synonyms would completely change the tone.
Well, can you? How about let's worry about the bigger problem: members of Congress running around on "fact-finding trips" all over the world on the taxpayer dime with only the thinnest of legislative justifications?

1 comment:

  1. No, I'm pretty sure you should hate the player sometimes, too.