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The High Cost of Empire Maintenance


Running an empire is not cheap.

The revelation that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has run up $4.7 million in travel expenses, over 930,000 miles, and a total of 373 days on the road in his five years in office should not surprise anyone, until one realizes that the numbers conceal as much as they reveal. As the Secretary travels by military aircraft and naval vessels, the cost of getting from point A to point B is not included, nor are a lot of the related staffing expenses as they are taken care of by Defense Department personnel who would be getting paid anyway.

Even with those sunk costs, however, managing visitors nevertheless compromises the ability of the local mission or command to carry out its normal duties. In my experience, the visit of a senior bureaucrat, a congressional delegation, or a high-ranking military officer overseas is both a money pit and a time-waster as it invariably requires weeks of preparation prior to the arrival of the potentate.

Congressmen are notorious for their worldwide travel as part of "Congressional Delegations" (CODELs), which are intended to be both "fact-finding" and "educational." Most CODEL visits not surprisingly occur in the summer when Congress is in recess, and sometimes lack seriousness or even any recognizable agenda. Sixteen congressmen traveled to Rome in March to attend the installation of Pope Francis at a cost of $63,000, a relatively small expense by government standards, but nevertheless a gesture that should have been paid for either through a private foundation or by the congressmen themselves.

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