'Don't ask, don't tell' policy was costly, GAO concludes

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 20, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military cost the Pentagon more than $193 million over six years, the Government Accountability Office reported Thursday.

In the first-ever public accounting of the cost of the Clinton-era policy, which remains in effect despite its December repeal, the GAO determined that the bulk of that expenditure, $185.7 million, went toward recruiting and training replacements for the 3,664 gay service members expelled during those years. The Pentagon spent another $7.7 million on administrative costs.

The report also suggested that the cost on military readiness of the policy had been high. It said 79 percent of soldiers expelled from the Army under "don't ask, don't tell" held jobs that were critical to military operations. In the Navy, 760 sailors expelled spoke languages considered critical to U.S. military operations, including Arabic, Serbian and Haitian Creole, the report said.

Advocates of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" hailed the report, saying it bolstered their position that barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military had been costly both financially and to the nation's military readiness. They urged the Pentagon to move quickly to certify that it was ready to lift the ban, something required by the repeal law President Barack Obama signed in December.

"Today's GAO report underscores that the 'don't ask, don't tell' law not only deprives the military of the qualified Americans it needs, but has also been a huge waste of taxpayer dollars on replacing patriots lost under this discriminatory law," Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said in a statement. "These numbers remind us why it's time to move forward on certification so we can begin implementing repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' and make a smooth transition to open service."

Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., who commissioned the GAO report as chairwoman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel during the last Congress, said the GAO report showed the importance of repeal.

"Clearly this was the right thing to do," Davis said about repeal in a statement on the report's findings. "No longer will American taxpayers continue to pay to throw out patriotic service members who want only to serve their country."

The report said the military had been unable to determine the cost of "don't ask, don't tell" prior to 2004, because not all the services could provide information on training expenses. The majority of the approximately 13,500 service members expelled since the policy took effect in 1993 weren't included in the study.

The GAO said it had calculated the total cost of "don't ask, don't tell" for the six years — 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 — by determining the expenses associated with the initial training of a new recruit, then multiplying that cost by the 3,664 service members who were expelled during those years.

The average cost was $52,800, but it varied widely by service, the GAO said. The Navy's cost was the highest, at $103,000 per recruit.

"Our calculations for the services' replacement costs amount to about $19.4 million for the Air Force, $39.4 million for the Army, $22.0 million for the Marine Corps, and $104.9 million for the Navy," the GAO report said.

The majority of those expelled had already served at least two years in the military, the report found.

The report showed little sign of racial discrimination — 70 percent of those expelled were white, and 18 percent black, roughly equivalent to the percentages of blacks and whites in the military.

But enforcement fell disproportionately on women, with the report saying that women made up 34 percent of those forced out. Women make up only about 14 percent of the number of people in the military.

Among the critical job specialties affected by "don't ask, don't tell," the report said, were many for which the military had paid recruiting bonuses, including infantrymen, mental health specialists, chemists, biologists, military policemen and nuclear specialists.

The report also suggested that the expulsions probably hurt service members even after they left the military. The report said that only 57 percent of those expelled for being gay received an honorable discharge, compared to a military wide average of 74 percent.

Those who didn't receive an honorable discharge were likely to face a more difficult job market and were also likely to have lost some veterans benefits.

ON THE WEB

The GAO report

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