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Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Inst Pr (October 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159114938X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591149385
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,941,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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"...a tell-all about the cowardice of Congress." -- Eleanor Clift, MSNBC.com, December 10, 2004

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By C. W. Richards on December 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Framers of the Constitution, in their efforts to improve an inadequate Articles of Confederation, spent a lot of time worrying about what powers the central government should have and how these powers should be distributed among the branches so that government could perform its essential functions but not threaten the people's liberties. The solution they devised was the system of checks-and-balances familiar to every American high school civics student. Winslow Wheeler's thesis is that after 217 years, that system no longer works.

What he means is that Congress has given up so much of its constitutional power to the executive branch that our system of government has settled into a stable state where Congress is a spectator to - rather than a check upon - presidential power. As Wheeler takes pains to point out, the dollar amounts wasted in pork are not the problem. In FY 2005, pork, that is items placed into the DoD budget by members of Congress, amount to something like $8.5 - $10 billion, which sounds like serious money until you realize that it's shoveled on top of a defense budget that will approach $500 billion (including the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan). And yes, much of that money is coming out of the O&M (operations and maintenance) accounts and so will shortchange our troops of many of the low-tech but essential items they need to survive and do their jobs. This is a travesty, surely, but it's where the money is transferred from, not the amount of pork, per se, that is the problem.

What makes the system stable is what senators and representatives have to do to get their share. Basically, they have to support the existing system or that system will not reward the member when time comes to ladle out pork or choose candidates for the next primary.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on November 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 our Senate:

Added $4 Billion in pork projects such as the new army museum in Robert Byrd's state, new parking lots in Ted Stevens stare, a career development center (whatever that is) in Pete Domenici's state.

To pay for it they took $2.4 Billion out of the defense bill's accounts that supported training, weapons maintenance, spare parts (just the things soldiers need most). This was done just as the first American casualties were coming home from the fighting in Afghanistan, some of them in boxes.

How is this done? How is this hidden from the press (or does the press care)? Is this really the best we can do with an elected Government?

Mr. Wheeler spent 31 years working on national security issued for members of the U.S. Senate and the General Accounting Office. He was pressured to resign because of an essay he wrote exposing these antics of Congress.

This book is a summary of the ways that the Senate (and Congress) go about their business as usual while young men are dying.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edit of 10 Oct 08 to add comment pointing to author's really excellent and detailed summary of what is wrong with Pentagon today (including budget data), and more links.

Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

What the author does in this book is focus on the failings of Congress. What the author does not do is provide a more documented analysis of why and how Congress has become disconnected from the people it is supposed to represent, or why the Executive does not balance Congress when the latter abuse their powers. The "balance of power" is in fact a "balance of pork privileges," and it is this inability, as the author describes it, to focus on all the facts, in an objective way, in order to make the best application of the taxpayer dollar, that cripples Congress (and the Executive).

I've given the author four stars because I disagree with those who would demean his motives. What I read here is consistent with the other books I have read--and my own experience talking to generally witless under-educated staff (because I am not important enough to get to the few who are "top notch"). When the author open his book by pointing out that ***all*** watchdog or balancing elements--the media, the think tanks--have failed to hold Congress accountable, I must agree with him.

The most interesting "thread" within the book has to do with information--what information gets where, who sees it, what do they do with it. At the end, the author concludes, most Members are not doing their homework, and most staffs are too busy focused on inserting partisan advantage and localized pork to actually serve the people of the United States in an effective manner.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Alan Caruba on November 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
By Alan Caruba

Every patriotic American simply must read Winslow T. Wheeler's new book, The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security ($28.95, Naval Institute Press.) Even the Washington Post has published some of his views, such as his August 22, 2004 analysis of the gigantic $416 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Defense in July, which included a mind-boggling $8.9 billion in pork, that is, non-military related spending under cover of helping our fine armed forces.

Wheeler has worked on national security issues for over thirty years, serving members in both the Senate and the House. He also worked nine years in the General Accounting Office, the Congressional watchdog agency. In 2002, he was pressured to resign from the Senate Budget Committee staff because of a commentary he wrote that revealed the extent of self-serving budget-busting going on. He is currently a visiting senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information.

His book is a devastating expose. For example, he writes that, after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, Senators added $4 billion in "irrelevant and useless projects for their home states to the defense budget. At the same time, they stripped $2.4 billion out of the bill from accounts "that supported military training, weapons maintenance, spare parts, and other military 'readiness' items (just the things soldiers need most) to help pay for the pork. This was done just as the first American casualties were coming home from the fighting in Afghanistan, some of them in boxes."

Wheeler is particularly damning in his description of Sen. John McCain, a former Vietnam war prisoner and hero, who, while loudly decrying the waste, has done nothing to stop or even slow it. Another Senator, Sen.
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