Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz published a remarkable op-ed in today’s Washington Post. They extol the virtues of the F-22, which “is, unquestionably, the most capable fighter in our military inventory.” They suggest that having more is better, but forthrightly indicate that we can’t afford to buy as many as we probably want to have. (For more on the value of the F-22 and why we can’t afford it, see this article by Mark Bowden from the March 2009 Atlantic.)
In these budgetary times — when we are painfully sacrificing our military’s teeth — how can we justify the expense of maintaining five appellate courts that cling to the tip of the military’s tail? Consider that at the moment, three of the five military appellate courts (ACCA, AFCCA, and CGCCA) are preparing to move . How many millions of dollars will be devoted to building new facilities for those three courts? How many millions of dollars are spent each year on the four CCAs’ operating budgets? Could we find better uses for those millions of defense and homeland security dollars? Of course we can.
This is no time to maintain military entities simply because the wire diagram has included them for decades. I firmly believe that the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is capable of providing a one-level review of all military convictions — just as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is capable of providing a one-level review for every federal conviction in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, as well as hearing appeals from federal civil cases in those states. Why should a servicemember get two levels of sub-SCOTUS appeals when a civilian gets only one? Is maintaining that two-layer review worth the millions of dollars in operating expenses and the many millions more in capital outlays that DOD and Homeland Security will have to pay in the next few years to move three of the CCAs? Also, a one-stop-shopping system — in which CAAF would no longer itself hear cases in two stages — would be far faster than the current system, thus saving still more money by reducing the time period servicemembers spend on appellate leave, with the resulting costs to the government (particularly for health care).
Finally, let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say we really do need a two-layer appellate system. Then can’t we at least consolidate the four CCAs into one CCA, thereby saving not only about two-thirds of the combined CCAs’ operating costs, but also forgoing the need to build facilities for two of the three CCAs that are currently planning moves?
All of the money we would save by eliminating or combining the CCAs probably wouldn’t buy one F-22 — even if we added together all of the savings over 10 years. But I’ll bet it would be enough to save some other valuable military program that contributes to DOD’s war fighting capabilities.
If we are willing to sacrifice 60 of the “most capable fighter[s] in our military inventory” because they cost too much, it’s time to give serious consideration to sacrificing a layer of redundancy in the military appellate process because, in these budgetary times, we can no longer afford such an extravagance.