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EDITORIAL: Nellis case again shows government waste

The Coalition and Irregular Warfare Center was launched at Nellis Air Force Base in 2006 with the charge of finding ways to counteract the improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs that were killing and maiming American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, as is the case with far too many government entities these days, the warfare center’s primary mission became plowing through piles of taxpayer money.

As reported Oct. 13 by the Review-Journal’s Keith Rogers, in a 54-month period, $42 million was funneled through the CIWC and its partner in the project, the 505th Command and Control Wing. It was unclear how much of that money supported the improvement of irregular warfare capabilities, but there was plenty of off-point spending, including $427,000 for an effort to develop passwords for monitoring finances of an Army warfare group.

According to retired Lt. Col. Tim Werner, whose whistle-blower complaint got him fired in 2009 but ultimately uncovered the large-scale contract abuse, there were also unauthorized money transfers between the 505th Command and CIWC contractors, and misappropriation of funds for items such as “switchblades, high-intensity laser lights, body armor, retractable batons, handcuffs and other illegally purchased equipment, tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, some of which went missing.”

On April 6, 2009, the CIWC opened a new facility in a remodeled barracks at Nellis with a “dedicated crew of 13 officers” and a group of civilian contractors that grew to twice the number of uniformed personnel. But as Lt. Col. Ferner told Mr. Rogers, the mission wasn’t being met. “We were basically paying these guys to sit around at computers and play games.” Thankfully, the center was shut down in 2010.

Such stories of waste and abuse are too common. Government doesn’t evolve. It merely grows. New causes result in new programs while inefficient and redundant efforts endure. Closing even the smallest office — unfortunately, $42 million qualifies as small — requires incredible political capital.

The CIWC fallout — like the recently concluded shutdown and debt ceiling showdowns — demonstrates once again that the federal government is far too big at every level and spends far too much. The debt ceiling’s continuous rise piles more obligations onto the backs of every American, as the national debt approaches $17 trillion. For the just-concluded fiscal year, the budget deficit is projected to approach $700 million.

Shuttering the CIWC was necessary, albeit $42 million too late. Significant cuts are needed throughout all federal agencies, and the military cannot be exempt from such cuts. Glenn Reynolds, in a commentary last week for USA Today, advocates an across-the-board 5 percent cut in every government department’s budget line and a five-year freeze at that level. Not just a reduction in the growth rate of spending, but actual cuts. Mr. Reynolds wrote: “You can’t convince me — and you’ll certainly have a hard time convincing voters — that there’s not 5 percent waste to be found in any government program.”

To say nothing of the trillions of dollars worth of unfunded entitlement liabilities. It will take even harsher measures — and the end of money pits such as the CIWC — to get a balanced federal budget.

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