Among the many bizarre news items of recent days was a report that the U.S. Army, apparently in need of imagination as well as military intelligence, is turning to Hollywood producers, writers and directors to dream up terrorist threats and ways to handle them. The group includes the creative folks behind such action films as "Die Hard" and "Invasion U.S.A."
Perhaps the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments should hire a screenwriter to conceive a scenario in which the two bureaucracies get together and share resources in a meaningful way. As Washington bureau chief Jonathan Gardner reports in this week's cover story (p. 22), the Pentagon and the VA seem to consistently miss the mark on collaboration.
Congress authorized the sharing of healthcare resources in 1982, but attempts to prod the two groups to use that power have proved disappointing. In fiscal 2000, that sharing amounted to less than one-fifth of 1% of the departments' total healthcare budgets for that year. While the VA appears open to sharing, some on Capitol Hill suspect that bureaucratic turf protection by the Defense Department, which has raised operational concerns, is to blame.
Now, a 15-member task force appointed earlier this year by President Bush is convening to find ways to increase cooperation.
The Sept. 11 attacks on America taught us that government, often dismissed in this country as annoying or evil, is a vital component of a free society. But government, like many businesses, can waste resources and devote more energy to interoffice battles than to serving its customers, in this case, the citizenry. If taxpayers must shell out more dollars to ensure their safety and welfare in a time of conflict, so be it. But to squander money during times of sacrifice is singularly unhelpful. We should expect more of the people we elect or appoint to public office.
Pressured by veterans lobbies, Washington lawmakers and administration officials have long maintained a separate healthcare system to serve those who have served our country. Whether this system has rendered the best service to either the veterans or the country is a matter of debate. But as long as it exists, we should make the most efficient use of it and the Defense Department apparatus. The presidential task force and the public should demand cooperation and efficiency.
Let's write a happy ending for this story.