In its continuing bid to make the automatic sequester cuts as painful to the public as possible, Obama’s Pentagon has announced that it is suspending its aerial acrobatic flying teams, like the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels. With the decision, the Obama Administration is continuing the fiction that the last dollar government spends is on services most valued by the public.
Each branch of the military operates its own aerobatic team. The Navy and Marines have the Blue Angels. The Air Force has the Thunderbirds. The Army has a parachute team called the Golden Knights. These teams are publicly popular features of air shows across the country. After performances this past weekend, the Pentagon will suspend public appearances until at least after September 30th, the last day of the fiscal year subject to sequester cuts.
The decision raises two, almost conflicting, questions. First, is the Pentagon’s budget so efficient that cutting the aerobatic teams is a natural place to trim spending? When the government has to shave pennies off every dollar it spends, does it always need to first go to the areas the public most sees? To save $2 million, over a 7 month period, out of the Secret Service budget, Obama chose to cancel self-guided tours of the White House. I appreciate the Obamas’ predilection for luxury vacations, but couldn’t they have scaled back these, rather than shutter the White House from the public?
The second question raised is more existential. Why is the military providing aerobatic teams to air shows in the first place? One promoter said that acts like the Blue Angels boost attendance at air shows by 25%. There is a clear financial value, so why aren’t air shows paying for the military entertainment? Beyond that question, are these aerobatic teams really critical to providing for the national defense?
Taming runaway federal spending will require a host of tough decisions. Many programs may make sense when budget deficits are just 2-3% of GDP, but look altogether different when deficits approach 10% of the economy.
Perhaps it is time to retire the Blue Angels permanently.