For decades we heard the cry, “NOT IN MY BACKYARD!” You did not need to finish the article or watch the rest of the news broadcast to know what it meant or what it referred to. Communities protesting Section 8 housing in middle class neighborhoods. City residents, although decrying a rise in crime, blocked construction of a new prison in their municipality. And perhaps the most famous example, the three decade effort to stop Nevada’s Yucca Mountain becoming the repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.
There were exceptions. In mid-1980s Texas, rural communities on the verge of extinction competed for these projects. They brought jobs to towns in which the historical source of family income and public revenue had long disappeared. Where affordable housing for the unemployed and underemployed was non-existent. Where the out-migration of young residents robbed these places of their future workforce.
Two news stories this past week foretell a “new NIMBY,” one with a major difference. The outcry is not about what is being built in a community, but projects which may go forward whether they are needed or not. The first is an exposé in the September 7 edition of ProPublica about the Navy’s abandonment of the LCS (littoral combat ship) project, conceived in the late 1990s as a smaller, faster off-shore alternative to the more costly and less agile destroyer class.
In his article, “The Inside Story of How the Navy Spent Billions on the LCS (Little Crappy Ship),” Joaquin Sapien documents the project budget overruns, design flaws and lack of reliability. According to Sapien, “Scores of frustrated sailors recall spending more time fixing the ships than sailing them.” He described the LCS’ history as ” a vivid illustration of how Congress, the Pentagon and defense contractors can work in concert — and often against the good of the taxpayers and America’s security — to spawn what President Dwight D. Eisenhower described in his farewell address as the “military industrial complex.”
Perhaps the best evidence of this debacle is the saga of the USS Freedom, the first commissioned LSC which left the shipyard on October 8, 2008. Despite promises of a 25-year useful life for the vessel, it was decommissioned on September 29, 2021, just short of its 13th birthday. Three more of the first five ships have been decommissioned, the most recent being the USS Milwaukee on September 8, 2023 after less than eight years in service.
Common sense tells you the LCS would be a good place to start trimming unnecessary expenditures in the FY2024 defense budget. As early as 2019, the Navy proposed cutting back on production of the LCS, requesting just one more in the FY2020 budget. In what could only be described as a rare bi-partisan moment, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) recruited President Donald Trump to support American-made products and avoid the layoff of workers in her state. Sapien reports, “On May 24, in a move that shocked the defense community, the Trump administration inserted one more ship into the budget after it had already been sent to Congress.”
This example of the “new NIMBY,” the eventual inclusion of three more ships than the Navy wanted in the FY2020 budget, shows how the term can now be attributed to a totally different kind of situation. While every administration and member of Congress talks about balancing the budget, the necessary spending cuts required to achieve that goal “better not come out of my backyard.” Even when continued spending makes little or no sense. The easy solution would be to either mothball every LSC or offer them to coastal states for civilian purposes similar to the disposition of military bases following recommendation of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission at the turn of the century. However, congressional members representing San Diego, California and Mayport, Florida, home bases for the remaining LCS fleet, continue to lobby for continued operations at these home ports.
The next example demonstrates how the “new NIMBY” can convert even the most ardent budget hawk into a dove. Earlier this year, Representative Randy Weber, a Republican from Friendswood, Texas and a member of the Freedom Caucus, voted against Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s bi-partisan deal to avoid default because it did not go far enough to reduce the federal deficit. Yesterday, he turned the other cheek. According to Texas Tribune writer Matthew Choi:
When it comes to backyards, Texas is among the biggest. And to paraphrase the Lone Star state’s slogan, “Don’t Mess with Texas,” I wonder if the license plate on Congressman Weber’s personal car reads, “DMWMB.” DON’T MESS WITH MY BACKYARD. On the bright side, his request for the Ike Dike could be viewed as an admission that “there just might be something to all that climate change hoo-ha.” But don’t bet on it. He still has another cheek to turn.
For what it’s worth.