UNKINDEST CUT

UNKINDEST CUT….I guess it’s just a matter of priorities. In his new budget, the president takes an ax to a tiny Americorps program called the National Civilian Community Corps. This small enterprise employs about a thousand 18-to-24 years olds in full time service, much of it involving disaster relief and homeland security. The program gets rave reviews from participants and recipients alike. After 9/11, Sen. John McCain singled it out as the kind of effort we should be expanding. Yet Bush’s new budget would cut its funding from $27 million to $5 million ? an 80 percent reduction! The reason given by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget is that the program is “extremely expensive.” Via Daily Kos, I see that some of the program’s alumni have set up a web site to fight the cut. Good for them.

If the president really wants to cut waste in the federal government, he should start with the eight nuclear weapons labs and factories that comprise the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). These Cold War-era relics employ 36,000 people in seven states, at a cost of $9 billion a year. Yet they haven’t produced a single nuclear weapon ? their primary mission ? in a decade and a half, for the simple reason that we don’t need any more nuclear weapons. Moreover, these facilities are sitting ducks for terrorists. Keeping all of them open makes zero sense, budgetarily or militarily. As Zachary Roth reports in the latest issue of The Washington Monthly:

Last summer, a congressionally-mandated report produced by a blue-ribbon task force of experts found that reducing the number of sites we operate would save money, improve security, and make the complex better able to produce the next generation of nuclear weapons the United States may someday need. It was the kind of report you might think elected officials would have seized on. After all, at the time, the Bush White House and GOP congressional leaders were in tense negotiations over how to reduce the president’s massive budget deficit. Desperate congressional leaders were targeting student loans, Medicaid?anything they could think of to save precious dollars and restore their party’s reputation as the standard-bearer of small government. The news, then, that by shuttering dilapidated and largely redundant government facilities, they could save billions, while making Americans safer against a terrorist attack, ought to have been heralded. Indeed, at a similar moment of fiscal panic during the 1990s, Congress and the Clinton White House agreed to help the Defense Department adapt to the post-Cold War world by creating an independent commission to recommend the closing of obsolete military bases. But this time, Congress and the administration reacted to the DOE weapons complex report with studied indifference, and in some cases, outright hostility.

Like I said, it’s a matter of priorities.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.