How to Save Money in Washington? Ask Gibbs

In at least one episode (and probably more than that) of the popular TV show, NCIS , the crack sleuths of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service find interlopers in their midst — agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DeHoSe). Typically, the pretext for the unwelcome arrival of the stiffs from DeHoSe is that Jethro Gibbs's NCIS team is hunting down a criminal of the Arab and/or Muslim persuasion. (DeHoSe only does Muslims.)

As much as Gibbs, DiNozzo, McGee, Abby, and the gang dislike intrusions from their rivals at the FBI, they are vastly more miffed at the presence of the DeHoSers. After all, as long as NCIS has Ziva, and Ziva has associations with Mossad, the one and only Israeli intelligence agency, which has been tracking Middle Eastern terrorists since the 1940s, NCIS is going to be way better at Arab-grabbing than the neophytes at DeHoSe.

Inevitably, whenever a DeHoSe team shows ups on NCIS , the NCIS team shows 'em up and proves that DeHoSe is completely superfluous to the job of catching swarthy Arab badasses. Moreover, not only can NCIS do it better, so can the FBI, and so can — if you trust TV cop-show producers — the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Frankly, I do trust TV cop-show producers. I think Dick Wolf and Donald Bellisario are right. America needs a Homeland Security investigative service like Dolly Parton needs a push-up bra. The US, regardless of our role as the world's policeman, has too many spooks. DeHoSe is a fifth wheel.

The Department of Homeland Security, whose name (for some of us) summons up eerie associations with the officialese spoken in the Third Reich, was cobbled together in White House panic after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. All of its parts were lifted from other existing government agencies. Typically, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was doing just fine as part of the Justice Department, was not only moved to Homeland Security, but was divided into three separate agencies (USCIS, ICE, and CBP), tripling its size while adding not an iota to its mission, its competence, or its efficiency.

But I bet it costs more!

Which is my point. Right now, Republicans and Democrats in Washington are climbing all over one another trying to prove who's better at cutting a deficit that doesn't really need to be cut right now. Their main targets in this frugality derby are poor people, old people, old poor people, single mothers, and motherless kids.

Meanwhile, nobody's asking the $64 billion question: How much could we save by just closing down Homeland Security lock, stock, and paranoia, firing all those investigators whose only apparent function is annoying Jethro Gibbs, and putting all the poached agencies back where they were before 9/11?

I really don't think any regular people (outside the Beltway) would miss DeHoSe. And the savings — just by eliminating the duplication of functions, offices, and personnel — could total $64 billion.

Having scratched DeHoSe, I'm not finished. I have other huge-ticket suggestions that could save a fortune with relatively little sacrifice. For instance, close the Air Force.

Sure, when General Billy Mitchell won his heroic struggle for a US Air Force separate from the Army, it was a great idea, because airplanes turn out to be the best way to sink enemy battleships. But there ain't nobody got battleships anymore. Air Force aviation and naval aviation are carbon copies of each other. And the busiest pilots in the US armed forces are probably the ones in the Army, flying combat and transport helicopters and operating drones.

Just closing down the Air Force Academy could save another $64 billion.

Another big-money idea: Right now, Wall Street faces catastrophe every day, from millions of “high-frequency trades,” closed in milliseconds not by brokers, but by algorithms. When these automatic programs misfire and run amok (which they do), the Dow Jones can drop hundreds, even thousands of points in a matter of hours — throwing the New York Stock Exchange into chaos and ravaging companies.

However, if Congress were to enact a simple penny tax (one-cent) per Wall Street transaction, either by a trader or by an algorithm, the revenue to the American public (at no cost to the American public) would be colossal. And, since each high-frequency trade earns about one-tenth of a penny, the algorithms would be out of business. Beautiful idea, or what?

I got a million of 'em.

8 comments on “How to Save Money in Washington? Ask Gibbs

  1. FreeBird
    February 8, 2013

    I'm a fan of NCIS, but a bigger fan of Homeland. In terms of cost-savings, spoiler alert: Homeland is on a premium channel. However, if you are willing to cough up the bucks, it is a great ride. However, Homeland centers on the CIA. I think they operate independently of everyone (DHS never shows up on Showtime.) And they have a handy way of cost-cutting: anyone who gets in their way is, let's say, written off the show in a dramatic manner

  2. hash.era
    February 10, 2013

    Wow this is simply amazing. is it really in practice and is it effective as well ?

    February 11, 2013

    Interesting and amusing points on Homeland.  However you hit the nail on the head wrt millisecond trading.  A rule that makes it prohibitively expensive to day trade might encourage longer term thinking and stop the blinkin boat rocking so much.

  4. Daniel
    February 11, 2013

    “Just closing down the Air Force Academy could save another $64 billion.”

    David, shut down the air force station to save $64 billion is not a good idea. Such organizations/institutions are of national importance and we cannot say that they are wasting the nation's wealth or money.

  5. Daniel
    February 11, 2013

    Flyingscot, I don't think so far nobody had noticed about the errors in such algorithms. From where such revenue is l oozing, from invertors account or broking house.

  6. rohscompliant
    February 11, 2013

    As I was on my way to my favorite ski slope in Maine yesterday I noticed a DeHoSe SUV passing me w/ ski racks & skis loaded on top of it……..good use of my taxpayer $$$……the DeHoSe has go to go!

  7. bolaji ojo
    February 12, 2013

    rohscompliant, Perhaps the ski equipment were to be used for tracking fugitives!

  8. Brian Fuller
    February 13, 2013

    Benji, great post, but have you seen Dolly Parton lately? She ain't 30 anymore. 

    Seriously though, this is one of those classic challenges: As taxpayers we're keen on cutting spending where we think appropriate. And clearly the Defense Department is ripe for efficiencies. 

    But the DOD is also a hulking consumer of electronics and an innovator as well. So I wouldn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

    I suggest a new review committee, to be headed by you and Dolly Parton, to really get to the bottom of redundancies in military spending. 


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