CBS: Top military brass live pretty darn comfortably in the age of sequester

posted at 9:21 am on July 22, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

When I worked in the defense industry a few decades ago (gulp), stories about $400 hammers and $800 toilet seats abounded in contracting. People thought we were all getting rich off of the military, but as I would patiently explain, the cost came from the fact that all of those stories left off a lot of context, such as the fact that those tools and parts had to be custom built to military specs, and in small quantities — which drove the unit costs out of sight. That was plainly inefficient and a good opportunity to reform some Pentagon practices, but no one was getting rich or building slush funds out of the process.

This one might be a little tougher to explain. CBS has received a Pentagon review of spending for top military leaders that shows a lavish amount of money being spent on their living quarters, but part of that — part, anyway — springs from their official duties:

Only late in the piece does CBS acknowledge that the housing for top military brass isn’t just housing.  For many, the facilities are a pseudo-diplomatic facility as well as a place to bunk up.  Military leaders at this level not only deal with troop readiness, but also considerable diplomatic and political duties, including meetings, entertaining, and so on.  For that reason, and for others less noble, military leaders are usually provided with digs approximating consulate status while abroad, and even domestically, especially with security issues always in mind.

The framing of this story by CBS is less than intellectually honest — or even mathematically honest.  Even with the rather significant spending noted in this story, it’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to the sequester that has perhaps forced pay cuts and furloughs in the Department of Defense.  Even if we wiped out all of the 32 top brass living quarters mentioned in this story and assumed that Gen. John Kelly’s costs of $3.2 million over 25 years is average, that would save us $102.4 million over 25 years, or about $4.1 million a year.  The sequester is $43 billion this year, and $85 billion the next nine years.  We are talking about less than 1% of the sequester amount for this year, and that assumes we’d give each of these men a blanket roll and a Coleman stove and tell them to find some good camping ground on their own.

Does that mean we can’t save some money and scale back a bit?  Of course.  Just as with any kind of government spending, it’s easy to go overboard, but it’s usually not an issue of greed as much as it is tunnel vision and an insular environment creating requirements that don’t necessarily reflect reality.  These men didn’t volunteer to serve the country to become wealthy, and deserve our respect as we peruse those costs more closely.  These living quarters serve more than one purpose, though, and the costs are hardly a driver of our national debt.


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I don’t really care. Seems more of an excuse to go after politically disfavored military spending rather than a legitimate effort to question government wastefulness. There are surely many more outrages elsewhere in government but the media won’t go after them because they support those agencies.

Charlemagne on July 22, 2013 at 9:26 AM

I’m much more concerned that we are giving money to people to buy food to ship it to relatives overseas. That’s a scandal. And considering what else is going on with this regime, it’s not much of a scandal itself.

rbj on July 22, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Out of curiosity, how much did Michelle Obama spend on her last three dozen vacations? Let me know when CBS reports on that.

joekenha on July 22, 2013 at 9:31 AM

We pay our current President way way waaayyy to much…and there is precious little to show for all those dollars expended/wasted.

And his perks…Disney World would have been a heck of a lot cheaper than that $100 million African safari.

OK, at least, for the most part, our senior military members actually worked their way up, from being a lieutenant humpin’ ruck with a platoon of mud soldiers, or being shot out of the sky…and there are a few up there who started out as a PFC Snuffy somewhere…though they are getting more and more rare.

Compare this to millions and millions in perks to a lot of folks whose most significant accomplishment is what? Getting elected?

Pelosi Airlines ring a ball?

coldwarrior on July 22, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Benghazi, IRS, NSA, F&f–hush….

Military mansions, oh the horror!

Thanks SeeBS..

hillsoftx on July 22, 2013 at 9:32 AM

many of those men are targets and require extra security. They also open up their homes many many times throughout the year to welcome guests and mentor junior officers. RHIP and many of them rarely spend the night there at all since they’re TDY most of the year.

ted c on July 22, 2013 at 9:33 AM

I hope you have forever to wait…

Out of curiosity, how much did Michelle Obama spend on her last three dozen vacations? Let me know when CBS reports on that.

joekenha on July 22, 2013 at 9:31 AM

gsherin on July 22, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Well, it a darn good thing the Obama is paying for his current Martha’s Vineyard vacay out of his own pocket.

Flying around giving vapid speeches must be exhausting.

coldwarrior on July 22, 2013 at 9:43 AM

Gen. John Kelly’s costs of $3.2 million over 25 years is average

‘costs’???

All of these homes are paid for. This is a hit piece by CBS News.

My default is to assume these are GOP leaning generals being featured.

faraway on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 AM

So, let me get this right, you are telling me that a 4 start general, the equivalent to a CEO of CfO of a company like Amazon or Google is living in a home that thre govt leases for the cost of $106k/yr?. This person serves in this capacity voluntarily, and can always decide to go work in the private marketplace and get paid many millions more. Does the Communist Broadcasting Service expect we are to have Gomer Pyles as our top commanders? Home much does the CEO of CBS make per year? is it more than this 4 star? How about we limit his pay to what America’s top military brass earns?

paulsur on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 AM

I can’t speak to the out of country digs but the stuff here in the states are on military bases and have been around forever. I would venture to say that some are even historic and the upkeep is probably pricey. This seems like a stupid thing to gripe about. If I was going to b!tch about the military, it would be about cost and time overruns on contracts and even a lot of those have their reasons.

Cindy Munford on July 22, 2013 at 9:49 AM

How well do some of our top education officials live? How well off are some of the other top bureaucrats in American government living?

Granted, he’s not a government official yet, but I’d love to see Michael Moore’s grocery bill each week.

JellyToast on July 22, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Nothing like a little class envy to focus people on a completely insignificant portion of government spending.

However, our own side has to come to grips with the complete and total breakdown in the relationship of amount spent vs. value received when it comes to defense spending.

We’re never going to have fiscal sanity until we do.

allanbourdius on July 22, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Of course, they aren’t IMPORTANT like news anchors. Then they’d earn their living.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/08/08/you-re-worth-how-much-tv-anchors-by-the-numbers.html

Abelard on July 22, 2013 at 9:57 AM

My husband was an active duty military officer for 24 years. And while he didn’t attain “top brass” status himself we had the privilege of attending many functions in the leadership’s quarters. They live normal lives in normal homes. The homes may look like luxury on the outside but I can assure you they are much like the homes of our friends who are in higher paying professional civilian jobs. Military officers are professionals with advanced degrees and experience, like their civilian counterparts.

But, they are living in government post/base housing. That alone should tell you something. And yes, they have a higher standard for the leaders housing because they are required to host functions, not only for those they command but for the community and distinguished visitors. The “top brass” and their families their lives like other military families. They are nothing like the greedy grifters who are occupying DC.

Jomama on July 22, 2013 at 9:59 AM

I noticed they didn’t talk about what the White House cost or Obama’s $100 million Africa trip in this story. Why is that?

JeffinSac on July 22, 2013 at 9:59 AM

that has perhaps forced pay cuts and furloughs in the Department of Defense.

No “perhaps” about it. In Groton, the Subase Commissary is closed 2 days a week instead of one for a month or more now, and will continue until at least the end of the fiscal year. And some 700 DoD civilians are on a one day a week furlough, for the rest of the fiscal year. That’s taking a 20% paycut for three months. And since some things which are withheld are not based on gross salary for the period (like health insurance premiums), that’s going to be more than 20% off the weekly take-home pay.

LibraryGryffon on July 22, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Should have been >live their lives like other military families<
Got a little riled up.

Jomama on July 22, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Anything to avoid where the real problems and spending are!

All Housing in the Military is either “provided” or “subsidized” no matter what rank you are. Try again cBS.

De Oppresso Liber on July 22, 2013 at 10:06 AM

We’re never going to have fiscal sanity until we do.

allanbourdius on July 22, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Not even worth talking about until we get rid of our unsustainable welfare and social (and unconstitutional) spending. If you eliminated the entire defense budget, it would barely make a dent in our deficit and our debt. If you eliminated all social spending, we would be in the black overnight, and you could actually afford to buy a few $400 hammers just for giggles.

the cost came from the fact that all of those stories left off a lot of context, such as the fact that those tools and parts had to be custom built to military specs, and in small quantities

Ed, don’t forget that some of the $800 toilet seats that were being complained about back in the day were actually for the space shuttle. Anyone who thinks you can just pop on down to Home Depot and grab a $19.99 toilet seat for a weightless, hermetically sealed environment needs to not be allowed near a keyboard – they might hurt themselves.

GWB on July 22, 2013 at 10:11 AM

Uh, back in the day as an E5 I lived in Navy housing that wasn’t that much different from what the upper echelons lived in. They had a little more room but then they were expected to ‘entertain’. I wasn’t. With the exception of the base CO and XO the best housing on that particular base was for senior enlisted folks. They actually had homes instead of townhouses.

Oldnuke on July 22, 2013 at 10:16 AM

The homes the top brass live is not as nice as the home of the typical mid-level corporate executive. They certainly are not as nice as the homes of the top executives of CBS nor even their second homes in the country.

It’s also worth remembering that even that level of comfort comes after 25 years of living in homes that are cramped by middle class American levels. Ramstein Air Base, Germany hosted 26 generals when I did a TDY there once. They lived in homes behind aircraft revetments so that the Red Army Faction could not easily shoot an RPG through their front windows. The Red Army Faction exploded a vehicle bomb at their headquarters at Ramstein, seriously injuring a number of people, including Brig. Gen. Joseph Moore.

For large parts of their career, general officers have been away from home in some pretty inhospitable places. By accident, I got a VIP room in the Osan Air Base Visiting Officers Quarters, a sort of military motel. It consisted of something like a Motel 6 room with a minibar. Those are the perks that VIPs, ie colonels and generals, enjoy in the service.

It is pretty hypocritical for a bunch of CBS executives and producers who live a fairly lavish life in Manhattan to condemn the few top officers in the military for living a life not even equal to theirs after a lifetime of privation and risk.

Tantor on July 22, 2013 at 10:20 AM

How much do we pay congress to live in DC? Why don’t we put them up in barracks type dwellings or even section 8 type dwellings?

LoganSix on July 22, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Gen. John Kelly’s costs of $3.2 million over 25 years is average

‘costs’???

All of these homes are paid for. This is a hit piece by CBS News.

My default is to assume these are GOP leaning generals being featured.

faraway on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Exactly, it’s not like they own these houses…and the whole thing is an imbecilic exaggeration, my wife’s in the AF and though for the most part I stay away from the mil functions she has to attend, I did join her on a couple of occasions at events held at the DAO’s place in London (the guy holding the position at the time was a Brigadier General, I believe) and at the Beale AFB Commander’s place (also a three star general at the time and currently working for the Pentagon). Believe it or not, neither of the two houses (the only top brass ones I have been to) were anything to write home about, don’t get me wrong, they were nice and adequate, but I remember we were actually remarking half jokingly that our house was bigger and had ten times more character than the base commander’s relatively impersonal one…the only redeeming quality of that house was that it was built on an elevation and had nice, lush, exotic vegetation around…

jimver on July 22, 2013 at 10:28 AM

All military personnel who live in Government quarters forfeit a monthly housing allowance. In the case of a 4-star general in the DC area, they give up a $3000+ monthly allowance so, no, it’s not “free” housing. The author of the article failed to do basic research on this fact so I question most of the other “facts” presented in the article.

VA Jacket on July 22, 2013 at 10:29 AM

$400 hammers and $800 toilet seats come from the massive amounts of regulation imposed on defense contractors by Congress. There is tens of thousands of pages of this stuff, much of which refers to each other, sometimes nested seven layers deep. To comply with all these regulations, contractors must create an elaborate workflow which requires enormous amounts of meetings and paperwork.

However, the government does not pay for meetings and paperwork, only the hardware delivered, which means that all that overhead must be applied to individual parts of the product, like hammers and toilet seats. Those hammers and toilet seats don’t cost exorbitant amounts because the contractors are gouging the government but because their cost was ballooned by stupid gummint micromanagement.

For example, I worked on the F-16 fighter. The simplest fix I ever saw to it was to drill a tiny drain hole in the front landing gear door to let the morning dew which collected there to drain out. The actual job of drilling the hole took a minute. However, the cost of satisfying government regulation boosted the cost of the fix up to $250,000 in 1990 dollars, $440,000 in today dollars.

And guess how ObamaCare is going to be run?

Tantor on July 22, 2013 at 10:30 AM

All military personnel who live in Government quarters forfeit a monthly housing allowance. In the case of a 4-star general in the DC area, they give up a $3000+ monthly allowance so, no, it’s not “free” housing. The author of the article failed to do basic research on this fact so I question most of the other “facts” presented in the article.

VA Jacket on July 22, 2013 at 10:29 AM

And no matter what rank/grade you are, your BAQ almost never lets you come out ahead or even. Singles without children, maybe. But thats’s why some of us “chose” to live on base in a 1000 square foot four-plex in North Dakota that was checked every few months for radon contamination or in an 800 square foot duplex in South Dakota whose sewer backed up into the basement when it dropped below zero outside. Both have since been demolished. Lap of luxury I tell ya.

Jomama on July 22, 2013 at 10:44 AM

By accident, I got a VIP room in the Osan Air Base Visiting Officers Quarters, a sort of military motel. It consisted of something like a Motel 6 room with a minibar. Those are the perks that VIPs, ie colonels and generals, enjoy in the service.

Tantor on July 22, 2013 at 10:20 AM

But, it’s like a really, really nice Motel 6 room, don’t you know.

And guess how ObamaCare is going to be run?

Tantor on July 22, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Yep. You think aspirin in a hospital is costly now? Just wait until the government gets fully involved.

GWB on July 22, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Just as with any kind of government spending, it’s easy to go overboard, but it’s usually not an issue of greed as much as it is tunnel vision and an insular environment creating requirements that don’t necessarily reflect reality.

I don’t think you understand the concept of reality.

That was plainly inefficient and a good opportunity to reform some Pentagon practices, but no one was getting rich or building slush funds out of the process.

Yeah, contractors selling $400 hammers to the DoD definetly weren’t getting filthy rich.

Aquateen Hungerforce on July 22, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Just as with any kind of government spending, it’s easy to go overboard, but it’s usually not an issue of greed as much as it is tunnel vision and an insular environment creating requirements that don’t necessarily reflect reality.

Append this remark to all of the above comments, and rank-order the three factors for (1) the President; (2) the Congress; (3) the DOD; (4) the actual serving officers.

AesopFan on July 22, 2013 at 10:51 AM

And, the star at the very top of the pyramid lives pretty good, too.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He takes $100M vacations.

You may know him. His first name is Barack.

TimBuk3 on July 22, 2013 at 10:52 AM

CBS, MSM, will not stoop so low as they can’t stoop lower to try and redirect the public’s emotional intelligence off the real urgencies and onto things they can — if the MSM has it’s way — onto things the public can be jealous of, angry about as “unjust to the strugglin’ poe-folk.”

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Interesting how Obama was recently publicly (from Congress) reprimanded for treating Air Force One as his “private toy” (as also his wife doing likewise).

So, here comes CBS insinuating the mean old military creepy guys are hog-wild on lavish livin’.

MSM, stooping so low down in desperation to get the proper judgement off their idol, Obama.

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 10:56 AM

Here’s the story on the Obamas being publicly reprimanded for their lavish abuse of the public’s dollars as to excessive, wasteful, personal and vacation use of Air Force One.


“Congressman to Obamas: ‘Air Force One Not Your Personal Toy’”

So here comes CBS with this story: “Squirrel!”

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Hey, CBS: Obama’s incurred national debt to the tune of SEVENTEEN TRILLION DOLLLLAAARRRRRSSSSS.

Trillion.

I can’t even imagine how much money that actually is and how anyone could incur such debt, except to realize Obama’s done that because it involved other people’s money. It’s all play-toy dough to Obama.

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 11:03 AM

CBS, MSM, will not stoop so low as they can’t stoop lower to try and redirect the public’s emotional intelligence off the real urgencies and onto things they can — if the MSM has it’s way — onto things the public can be jealous of, angry about as “unjust to the strugglin’ poe-folk.”

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Spot on…it’s what libfree keeps repeating here, that all these (faux) injustices (hyped by the media to hysteria levels – see Zimmermann trial) ‘galvanize’ and help the left ‘organize’, whatever that means…they thrive on that….I should add that lately libfree thinks of himself as an ‘organizer’ of sorts and keep threatening us with it :)…..wonder where did he get the idea :)..

jimver on July 22, 2013 at 11:05 AM

How much do we pay congress to live in DC? Why don’t we put them up in barracks type dwellings or even section 8 type dwellings?

LoganSix on July 22, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Yes, I agree, and that taxpayer-paid barbershop/beautyshop thing for Congress really bugs me. It also explains why so many career members of Congress eventually appear with those near-pomador combover or comb-up hairdo’s.

And that’s just the men. Congress is kept to prettily in perks — gourmet cafeteria thanks to Nancy Pelosi, offices, staffs, air transportation, cosmetics, plastics, vacations, those special trips to ‘investigate’ or even just tour international locations (and their spouses)…

There’s much wastefulness in our government to be contained and reduced. I know how hard our military live in so many cases and what a struggle it is for their families and they’re the last people who should be glared at as to ideas about their “lavish living” which is nonexistent in my experience.

I remember the big thrill of shopping the PX, as in, not too thrilling but very appreciated and necessary. Not what anyone could ever call “lavish,” however, and that was with a Colonel as escort.

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 11:11 AM

jimver on July 22, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Gahhh, I hope you’re not combining me with “libfree…”

Gahhhh.

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 11:13 AM

These guys paid dearly to get where they are. I have seen how they live on the stairs coming up.

I hope a few of these guys have videos of their digs on the way to the stars.

Living out of cardboard boxes, TDY’s so short their kids don’t know what country they live in, physically exhaustive work assignments, mentally exhaustive work assignments, rules on all aspects of life with serious penalties, wives or husbands having fantasies about a clean bug free home or a night out at a sit down restaurant with dishes they could identify…

I don’t begrudge our First Family their Xanadu quality trips or any other perks. They had their version of sacrifice and campaigns.

So did our general officers.

IlikedAUH2O on July 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM

If I wasn’t a decent person, though, I’d scribble nasty details about CBS’ lavish use of dough. From experience, I add, not like it’d be gossip.

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM

blink on July 22, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Didn’t you see “Independenc Day”?
That was all just a cover to pay for Area 51…//

dentarthurdent on July 22, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Interesting how CBS *ISN’T* questioning the massive mishmash of taxpayer dollars by the gazillions that the Dept. of State engages in.

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Gen. John Kelly’s costs of $3.2 million over 25 years is average

Ok, that’s $128,000 per year – for lease, maintenence and operation of a not really-mansion for a 4 star General.
So what?.
A 5 bedroom “mansion”? My house is bigger than that and I’m nowhere near General officer level..

And besides the direct security requirements, they fail to mention General’s quarters also include classified level phone and computer network access – which is not cheap – so they can respond to military emergencies immediately and directly from home at any hour of the day/night.

dentarthurdent on July 22, 2013 at 11:49 AM

IlikedAUH2O on July 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Yup – By the time they get the 4 star level, they’ve typically been in the military for 35 to 40 years, likely been in combat situations at some point in the career, have worked (and still do) many 12 to 20 hour days, and been moved on average every 2 to 3 years (how’s that life for spouse and kids?).

I’ve got far less of a problem with military General “perks”, as they are, as compared to what civilian political appointees in the gubmint get.

dentarthurdent on July 22, 2013 at 11:56 AM

I don’t begrudge our First Family their Xanadu quality trips or any other perks. They had their version of sacrifice and campaigns.

So did our general officers.

IlikedAUH2O on July 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM

I do.
A year or so of “campaign trail” doesn’t even come close to what military personnel endure for 30 to 40 years to get to the 4 star level.
And THIS first family has wasted many times more taxpayer dollars on their constant vacations than any other first family in the entire history of this country. Their “sacrifice” (Moochelle – living in prison) isn’t even close to the sacrifices of military families.

dentarthurdent on July 22, 2013 at 12:01 PM

jimver on July 22, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Gahhh, I hope you’re not combining me with “libfree…”

Gahhhh.

Lourdes on July 22, 2013 at 11:13 AM

More like contrasting :) …while you and I and most normal people see all these as faux injustices fabricated by a bunch of ideologies and social engineers on the left and reinforced and hyped by a MSM that has to profit on smething (and they choose to profit off people’s ignorance), libfree believe them to be real :)…neah, on second thought I don’t think that deep down he really believes any of this ‘injustice’ nonsense, but hey, as long as it helps ‘organize the left’, end of quite…

jimver on July 22, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Ideologues that is…

jimver on July 22, 2013 at 12:12 PM

See cBS BS the LIV, again.

AH_C on July 22, 2013 at 1:31 PM

such as the fact that those tools and parts had to be custom built to military specs, and in small quantities

The $400.00 hammer was a Plumb claw hammer with a fiberglass handle.

The exact same hammer that I bought for about $23.00, when I worked as a carpenter.

Solaratov on July 22, 2013 at 3:08 PM

Call me when these Generals get the same 24/7 Secret Service protection that Valarie Jarret gets.

Then I’ll think about being “outraged”.

Solaratov on July 22, 2013 at 3:25 PM

Ummm … these houses for Military Commanders already exist. they weren’t built in the last year / since Sequestration began. Should we spend millions to bulldoze them? Would THAT make people happy?

Here’s a better question / topic — Why isn’t the media outraged and reporting the estimated cost of $100 MILLION for the Obama’s African Vacation during Sequestration & a bad economy…and the collapse of Detroit? Why isn’t the media making a stink over the Obama’s taking multi-million dollar tax-payer funded MONTHLY Vacations?

In his 1st term Obama set ‘Monthly’, ‘Yearly’, and ‘Total’ records for deficit-spending. This term, Obama seems to be attempting to set the record for ‘Most’ & ‘Most Expensive’, and ‘Most Tax Payer dollars spent in 1 year’ on a President & family’s Vacations!

easyt65 on July 22, 2013 at 3:39 PM

Solaratov on July 22, 2013 at 3:08 PM

Corrupt contracts – Money goes to the Contractor who in turn kicks back a part of the money to the Bill’s author as a campaign contribution. Classing Washington Politician game.

Then there is the ‘Durbin’. Dick Durbin quietly awarded his son a military contract that required Durbin’s son be used as a warehouse for storing Navy equipment. After 10 years a newly elected politician on the Committee asked publicly this multi-million a year contract was. The navy was asked about it – they never knew about it, and an ivestigation proved the warehouse was EMPTY…for the 10 years the contract had been in effect. Daddy was awarding the contract. Junior was cashing the check & giving daddy a kickback, and the warehouse remained unused. (Durbin was NOT punished in any way, by the way, when this was exposed!)

easyt65 on July 22, 2013 at 3:44 PM

Their “sacrifice” (Moochelle – living in prison) isn’t even close to the sacrifices of military families.

dentarthurdent on July 22, 2013 at 12:01 PM

“Sacrifice” is NOT a word found in the d’ohbama vocabulary. (unless it’s applied to the peasant class…which would be us)

But then, not very many words over two syllables are found in lil barry’s vocabulary.

Solaratov on July 22, 2013 at 3:44 PM