Last month, the New York Times ran a piece about the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a secret program run by the Pentagon that was created to investigate UFO sightings by military personnel. The program was started at the instigation of then Nevada Senator Harry Reid in 2007, at that time the Senate Majority Leader. Officially, this UFO research project ran from 2007 to 2012.
Over that timeframe the Pentagon spent at least $22 million dollars in taxpayer funds on the program. Most of the money was spent in the form of no-bid contracts awarded to Bigelow Aerospace, a company owned and operated by extraterrestrial enthusiast Robert Bigelow. Bigelow, a Nevada entrepreneur, just happened to be a friend and donor of Reid.
What stands out from this story—aside from the overall craziness of the revelation that there was a Pentagon-sanctioned program revolving around UFOs—is the ability of powerful legislators to secretly move taxpayers money, funneling it not just to their states or their districts, but to specific individual friends and donors like Robert Bigelow with minimal scrutiny from his colleagues.
The Times story quotes Reid saying that “This was so-called black money [the classified part of the Pentagon’s budget]. [Alaska Senator Ted] Stevens knows about it, [Hawaii Senator Daniel] Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it.” Why, exactly, these three powerful and long-serving senators wanted things that way is left to the readers’ imagination. Moreover, how 432 other elected officials did not notice or bother to raise a red flag is emblematic of a broader problem in Congress.
The purpose of taxation as laid out in the U.S. Constitution is “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” Today that purpose has fallen by the wayside, as representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle use taxation not for these valid and necessary reasons, but instead as a loot box from which to pay off voters and donors and accumulate favors. The depth of this rot is revealed through the fact that even money allocated to our nation’s common defense is not safe from the greedy hands of elected officials.
The cost of this extraterrestrial pork is clear. Harry Reid successfully diverted funds to a donor for a project of dubious value that could have been spent on training or equipping our troops. Of course, the former Senator feels no shame about his actions. In an interview, he told the Times that “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going. I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
Unfortunately, that is incorrect. Far from being unique, this type of secretive spending of taxpayer money on hidden earmarks is all too common—and acceptable—in Washington. If our generation is going to save the American future, this is the type of cronyism we are going to have to end.