Don’t Ask’s Staggering Costs

Don’t Ask’s Staggering Costs

Blue-ribbon commission offers new, higher estimate

A report issued last week by a commission from the University of California at Santa Barbara concluded that the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy cost $364 million dollars during its first decade, almost twice as much as the $190 million calculated by the General Accountability Office (GAO) in 2005.

The 12-member commission included former president Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, William J. Perry, former Reagan assistant secretary of defense, Lawrence Korb, university professors, and military experts.

"Oversights in GAO’s methodology led to both under- and over-estimations of the financial costs of implementing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the report concluded. “By correcting these oversights, and after careful analysis of available data, this commission finds that the total cost of implementing Don ’t Ask, Don’t Tell between fiscal year 1994 and fiscal year 2003 was at least $363.8 million."

The commission found that the military spent millions of dollars replacing and training soldiers for positions vacated by those discharged for being gay. The UC study also offered a more detailed calculation than the 2005 GAO report of the "investment" lost when a soldier is prematurely discharged.

"The GAO assumed that every person fired under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell cost the same amount in losses to the military," said Aaron Belkin, a commission member and director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at UC Santa Barbara.

"But obviously someone fired a day before their retirement costs the military a lot less than a soldier fired after five years who on average would be expected to stay for another seven years," Belkin said.

The study concluded this loss of personnel is especially harmful to the military because of its special needs: "Unlike other industries, the military is unique in that it has to ‘grow’ its own employees and can not, in general, hire laterally from other sectors. As a result, length-of-service and on-the-job training are very valuable to the armed forces, and a service member returns much more value to the military as his or her experience increases."

The study also noted that the GAO failed to employ its own past estimates for the cost of training one service member. Earlier GAO studies indicated that training one enlistee costs on average $28,000. However, the GAO’s 2005 estimate instead inexplicably used a much smaller figures, in the case of the Army, only $6,400.

The report also factored in costs of investigations, processing discharges, and transportation for discharged service members, details not included in the GAO study.

DADT was instituted under Clinton who was forced to retreat from his campaign promise of allowing open service by gay people when it appeared Congress was on the verge of placing the military’s longstanding gay ban into law. The compromise allowed gays and lesbians to serve as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation or engage in homosexual conduct. In return, there were to be no active efforts to investigate the private lives of service members whose public conduct and statements drew no attention to themselves.

That has not been how the policy has worked out in practice. Pentagon figures indicate that since 1994, more than 9,500 individuals have been discharged for violating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. According to the Pentagon, 90 percent of these discharges result from statements made by individual service member, though innumerable instances of discharge have resulted from what could fairly be characterized as an intrusive command inquiry.

Northwestern University sociology Professor Charles Moskos, the architect of the Don’t Ask policy, told the Washington Post last week that most people in the service who claim to be gay do it to get out of their enlistment agreement early. He also said the costs of the policy do not outweigh the loss of personnel who would leave or never sign up—especially for combat positions—because they do not want to serve alongside gays and lesbians.

"There are no doubt some service members who misuse the policy to shirk their duty," said Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a group that provides advice and legal support to soldiers accused of violating the Don’t Ask policy.

"We have always said this is a great argument for why we need to get rid of the law."

Ralls added that the Pentagon’s 90-percent claim needs to be understood in the context of what the military considers an admission.

"Reporting anti-gay harassment has often been considered a statement, " Ralls said.

An example of how much latitude is given to what might be considered an admission, Ralls said that last year SLDN defended a female Air Force officer whose commander attempted to get her discharged based solely on the woman’s possession of Melissa Etheridge music CDs.

Data from foreign militaries that allow gays and lesbians to serve also hints there might not be a mass exodus of heterosexual soldiers once the U.S. ban is lifted. The British military, which allows open service, has not reported a single incident of a service member leaving the military because they might have to work alongside a gay or lesbian soldier.

The UC-Santa Barbara study comes at a time when the U.S. military is experiencing a near service-wide recruitment slump, and the number of personnel departing has reached almost record highs. The U.S. Army missed its 2005 recruitment goal by 7,000 soldiers.

According to the Associated Press more than 10 percent of enlisted personnel left the military in 2005, an increase from 8.7 percent in 2002.

A report obtained by the Baltimore Sun last week showed the U.S. Army over the past five years granting increasing numbers and percentages of special exceptions for recruits who in the past would not have been accepted for service because of drug and alcohol abuse, or past criminal behavior.

In an e-mail interview, Rod Powers, an independent military expert, said pressure from Congress’ mandate that the U.S. Army increase its ranks by 30,000 soldiers has led to the increase in waivers, but that statistics on such exceptions are not significant for the Army’s overall performance.

"The Army is not ‘packing their ranks’ with problem soldiers,” Powers wrote. “Individuals who get into trouble, whether they have a previous criminal history or not, would not get promoted. Rather they would likely be discharged."

This year the U.S. Army also doubled its enlistment bonus.

All of which, alongside the Iraq war, means the U.S. military has come under an increasing cost strain in the past decade—a stress compounded by the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

The Santa Barbara report concludes with an assessment of how Don’t Ask raises the military’s incidental costs because the policy forces gays and lesbians to cover their sexual orientation.

A forthcoming study cited in the report indicated that nearly 20 percent of gay service members who successfully completed a term of service chose not to re-enlist because they could not be open about their sexuality.

Similarly, about 20 percent of gay veterans stated they had married while in the military to avoid scrutiny. Their spouses were then eligible for healthcare and other benefits from the armed forces—costs that would not have been borne if gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly.

"Such a phenomenon would be less likely to occur after the lifting of the ban," the report concluded.