The curse of overspecializing the government |

The curse of overspecializing the government

special to the daily
Marc Carlisle

In Washington, most Federal employees are either specialists or experts. If you ran out of staples, you hoped that the staple-ordering person was in; certainly no one else could order staples.

And the actual staples, this being the Federal Government, had to meet specific requirements for tensile strength, diameter and sharpness, in accordance with interagency guidelines developed by the staple experts from each agency who met in continuous conclave to keep current on developments in staple dynamics.

Federal agencies need an Office of Common Sense. Guys named Joe would work there, common folk with imperial, peremptory powers to look at anything and everything Federal agencies and their employees did, with the power to say “Stop that! What you’re doing doesn’t make any damn sense!” Joe could start at the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, and his task wouldn’t be limited to questions of staple procurement.

One of the first questions I’d expect him to explore is straightforward enough: Shouldn’t the military in time of war deploy the majority of its men and women under arms where the battles are being fought and conversely, shouldn’t the military deploy few, if any where there is no war, or even the remotest possibility of war?

Most Americans would agree you send the troops where the fighting is, everyone that’s available, to win the war as rapidly as possible to minimize the number of casualties among American men and women under arms. There are 160,000 troops fighting the war in Iraq, their numbers reduced daily by casualties, and 17,000 fight the war on terror and simultaneously the war on drugs in Afghanistan.

In the former Yugoslavia, we have 1,700 ” that war we’ve left largely to the Europeans to wage, although we’re certainly in a position to help, since we have 100,000 troops deployed in Europe.

During the Cold War, the U.S. kept large numbers of troops in Europe to help defend Western Europe against the Red Giant, the Soviet Union. The Giant, of course, is no more, gone these fifteen years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Yet our troops remain. Part of the reasoning is budgetary ” the military bases in Europe are some of the finest in the world, already paid for and their operating costs subsidized by the host countries. Bringing the troops home as the Base Closure Commission enters its second decade would be a nightmare. Besides, the bases and the troops in Europe are close to likely battlefields, close to places where they might be deploy on short notice.

But Europe is nowhere near the Mexican border, the next war zone, where the President plans to deploy six thousand troops. Without taking troops from Europe, the Pentagon doesn’t have the manpower as recruiters continue to fall chronically short of their recruitment targets. With a budget of over $600 billion, give or take, and with nearly 4 million men and women on the payroll, Joe would say “find a way.”

But Joe wouldn’t approve such a deployment in the first place. He’d agree with the Pentagon that sending soldiers to the Rio Grande is a step taken for political gain whose only result will be film of American soldiers shooting Mexican children.

But Joe doesn’t work inside the Washington Beltway, and for those who do, the solution to a problem is rarely what makes sense. And the solution, a politically possible one but a ding-dong one in the realm of common sense, is clear. The U.S. Army does not require its soldiers to be U.S. citizens, a throwback to the days of the Hessians (read your history). Soldiers must be in the U.S. legally, however, and there’s the answer to two problems.

Rather than declare amnesty for the 12 million illegals resident in the U.S., the President could create a new visa classification for illegals who join the regular Army, to help round up or shoot the ones who won’t go home or wear olive drab green. And Congress should make illegal residency a felony, because judges can, for the illegals who are caught and convicted, give them a choice of jail or joining the Navy.

In Washington, this is political genius, although none of us need a Joe to tell us what it really is.

Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at

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