Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is launching a new attack today in an effort to prevent the Pentagon from shutting down an Iowa National Guard unit, eliminating a thousand jobs. Grassley is taking part in a Senate Budget Committee hearing this morning at which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is due to testify.
Grassley, a Republican, has reviewed the Department of Defense budget and says he’s stunned by the abuses he’s discovering. “I found 16 audit reports that identify egregious waste and misconduct in DOD,” Grassley says.
“With $500-billion in controversial defense budget cuts proposed by the administration, the waste described in these reports is the perfect place for the Pentagon to begin its belt-tightening.”
He says the audit reports are “scandalous” and “disgraceful” while at the same time, generals are looking to dissolve highly-decorated, dedicated units like the one in Iowa. Grassley says if the military brass chooses to cut the National Guard, in his words, “you’re getting the least amount of savings with the most damage to our national security efforts.”
Grassley has tangled with the Pentagon on several occasions, including an epic embarrassment for the military in the 1990s which included a report that detailed spending $500 each for toilet seats. “You were bringing up the toilet seats of 25 years ago,” Grassley says.
“That came from what we call spare parts abuse and we’ve got still spare parts abuse in examples coming from these audit reports.” He adds, none of the latest audits are as “outstanding” as the $500 toilet seats. The Air Force is planning to shut down the Iowa Air National Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing, based in Des Moines.
The unit includes 21 F-16 fighter jets and a thousand personnel, from pilots and mechanics to support staff. “I believe it’s going to take aggressive action by the Congressional delegation, hopefully working with Congressional delegations in other states, to overturn this,” Grassley says.
“I think it’s a foregone conclusion that this is what the secretary of the Air Force wants to do.” Grassley met again on Monday with members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation and Governor Terry Branstad to discuss ways of saving the unit. He says, “The governor said that at least 40 governors have signed a letter or document or something to either the president or the secretary of the Air Force, saying how they were against the Air Guard being cut.”
The military is proposing replacing the fighter jets with unmanned drone aircraft. The drone unit would reportedly employ up to 500 Guard members, half the current unit’s size.