Jarrod Chlapowski

Pentagon Study Analysis Part I: Overall Impression

Filed By Jarrod Chlapowski | December 01, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: DADT survey, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Pentagon report

I spent the greater part of yesterday in pure grad student glee reading over the Pentagon study which was finally released yesterday. Yes, I am that guy.

pentagon2.jpgThis study is good. Really good. Incredibly exhaustive, you will be hard pressed to find aspects relative to the how of repeal not covered by the study (though there are a few items missed, which I get to after the jump).

The problem is that the study is so exhaustive - weighing in at a whopping 267 pages - most won't read the dang thing and at best read the 17 page executive summary which does a pretty good job of incorporating all the key talking points of the research.

But that's no fun. More interesting - well, to me at least - is digging deep in the weeds and finding secondary and tertiary connections between data points that are not so obvious in the executive study, identify potential flaws in the methodology, and really have a thorough understanding of what the Pentagon Working Group spent most of 2010 researching.

I think it's important for you to be informed on what the study actually says, so I'm splitting this up into two parts. Part 1 will be my general take on the study as a whole, while Part 2 will go into details of methodology, themes, sidenotes, and an item that is set to really piss the LGBT community off - if we let it.

Nothing Unexpected

For many who are familiar with talking points surrounding the issue - or who have actually read the 1993 RAND study and other reports - there is not much that is really unexpected in the Pentagon study. Most data points rehash previous research, update that same research, or provide a ton of quantitative support for evidence that has largely remained anecdotal. It is easy to see how this study could take the good part of a year to produce.

Some of the recommendations take findings to the logical extreme. I'll go into more detail on one of these items in section III of Part 2(The Item that is Likely to Piss You Off), but very generally, in the well-meaning intent of implementing a repeal plan with as little risk as possible, (perhaps) unnecessary measures are recommended, and (perhaps) unnecessary items are investigated.

It is revealed that a good number of the questions of the infamous 400,000 member Pentagon study were derived from Information Exchange Forums (IEF's) and smaller focus groups conducted on over 50 garrison posts (more on this in section II of Part 2 [Methodology Kudos and Flaws]), which explains the focus on housing and benefits in the survey when for the most part benefits will remain unchanged until DOMA is repealed. The result is a very convincing argument that comprehensively explains why benefits will not be an immediate issue, while also explaining which benefits can be offered and how the Pentagon would go about implementing those changes.

When reading the study, it is important to remember that a good many data points are relatively unknown or misunderstood by the general public. There is a reason why the 'but we're in two wars' argument is so effective, or the idea that a ton of benefits to same sex partners will have to be provided and that chaplains will have to begin performing gay marriages can raise the ire of many in the opposition so quickly. Most of the voting American public who has an opinion on this has never served, and even those who have probably aren't aware of all the nuances that explain why certain concerns really aren't legitimate. Essentially the study is a calm, academic means to say, "Really, folks, this won't be a big deal."

Not 'If' But 'How'

But the study wasn't supposed to look at whether we do this, but how, right? True, but in a way this study accomplishes both. If you really think about it, investigating how to implement repeal by necessity addresses all the concerns of what damage would be created, which really reduces opposition arguments down to a quiet muttering. Though perhaps unintentional, McCain did get his 'whether to repeal' question answered in this study, and it's hard to see what an additional study would look like and what other questions could be asked.

Well, actually, I take that back. There are a few more questions that could be asked, but, unfortunately for McCain, they would address positive effects of repeal. The fiscal cost of DADT is vaguely dismissed as a $20M annual discount on the estimated cost of implementing new benefits ($40M - $50M), which, when multiplied by 17 years of DADT only produces an overall past cost of $350M. This is less than the $369M estimated by a Blue Ribbon Commission from 3 years ago reviewing a previous GAO estimate of about $170+M, which in and of itself has been revealed to be an extremely conservative estimate. The troop survey questions shied away from asking about possible benefits of repeal - increased cohesion, trust, interaction, retention - and more looked at possible risks to repeal. Focus groups and IEF's did not attempt to get a wide sample and instead relied on volunteers and command recommendations, meaning loud opinions on benefits of repeal were stymied in these groups.

What the Study Really Is

Which brings us to what the study actually is. Though this overall can function as a nuclear blast as to why we should repeal DADT, in reality the study is treated as a risk assessment. The panels assembling and processing the data derived via exhaustive research followed the same industry standard risk assessment model used in areas unrelated to DADT. How this helps is that bias cannot be claimed by anyone who has actually read the study with academic intent. However, in practice the study will be used to cushion already existing talking points, with the remainder being conveniently ignored.

As a result, McCain, Graham, and others now have a source to point out and say, "Look! This says the Marines and Combat arms cannot handle this! Privacy issues are the chief concern! Therefore, we can't do this in times of war, and we need separate barracks!" Every single one of these points are addressed in excruciating detail in the study, but that won't matter to them. And you can be sure many of our allies will not have read the study thoroughly enough to counteract that rhetoric as effectively as they should. Particularly when we have Senate hearings on the topic tomorrow.

Overwhelmingly, the study is fantastic. It provides an incredibly effective argument as to why we should repeal DADT and demonstrates that this is definitely something the Pentagon can handle. The timing and current political climate, however, will inevitably warp a well-intentioned risk assessment into fodder for the opposition to use, and I am not convinced our allies will use the study as effectively in response as they should. I hope I'm wrong.

Alright, you can rest your eyes till this afternoon. Part 2 coming shortly. Get ready.

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The Report is well done. Despite that fact, they'll ask for time to review it. That will sound reasonable and the issues will be deferred until the Spring.

This Report may change the minds of a few moderate Republicans, but with 4-5 Senate Democrats still religiously against DADT repeal, it won't be enough. Snowe and Collins won't support repeal unless they're convinced there are +60 votes. We have 56 LGBT-supportive votes (at best) and finding 4 Republicans willing to buck party leaders just before a new session is very unlikely. That would require courage, something rarely found in politics.

McCain (and his "cautious" narrative) will seize on the Study's only "Achilles heel:"

"Combat units, including 48 percent of Army troops and 58 percent of Marines, thought lifting the ban would have negative consequences. More than a quarter of Army troops and more than a third of Marines said they'd consider leaving the military if the ban were lifted."

I don't know that there are 4-5 Senate Democrats religiously against DADT repeal. I thought the only two Democrats who voted against it before were the two senators from Arkansas. It will be interesting to see how Mark Kirk and Scott Brown vote this time around. Last I heard they were both still undecided and were reading the Pentagon report.

All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to say, "The votes aren't there in the Senate."

Six Democrat Senators against LGBT-issues:

Blanche Lincoln, AR (HRC rating 70)
Mark Pryor, AR (HRC rating 60)
Jim Webb, VA (HRC rating 85)
Joe Manchin, WV (HRC rating NR)
Ben Nelson, NE (HRC rating 65)
Jon Tester, MT (HRC rating 80)

Nelson and Tester may be a possibility.

R L Pete Housman. | December 1, 2010 11:37 AM

As has been the case all along, those who are opposed to the Repeal will deny the facts and manipulate the findings to support their own bigotry. But the pathway to changed has been
revealed. The Repeal of DADT is an idea whose time has come.

More importantly much of this data can be directly applied to other areas of GLBT EQUALITY struggle.

Thanks Jarrod

Your comments are very well stated and both
myself and my Partner are in agreement.

It may not go anywhere regardless since all 42 GOP Senators in the current Congress have pledged to filibuster everything that isn't related to the tax cuts or budget. If this holds, game over.

The statistics are one thing. But people shouldn't get hung up on them.

In the conclusions and recommendations, they dismiss those concerns for the most part. They say that much of those concerns are based on stereotypes and fear of the unknown. And that while there may be some problems here and there, they can be overcome and dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Of most concern may be that they don't recommend to add sexual orientation to their suspect class rules, which closes some avenues to address problems. But they provide alternate means to do so. Whether that will work in practice is another matter.

To be honest, I am really shocked at how it came out. The whole exercise had the appearance of a set up intended first to delay repeal and then to generate an empirical basis to reject repeal today and for years to come.

The survey form does not explain the rationale behind repeal or the benefits that would follow. Instead, it is page after page of questions about preparation and after-effects. If you didn't follow the issue that closely, as is the case with many military families, you would come away from the survey with the impression that repeal is a messy, complicated, and labor-intensive project being undertaken for no good reason. In addition, return of a completed survey was voluntary, which would seem to favor opponents of repeal in the final pool of responses.

While the final results were better than I ever would have expected, I think that the above factors were still at work here, artificially inflating opposition. Also, I think that the 335,000 survey recipients who did not respond - about 3/4 of the entire pool - should all count as evidence in favor of repeal. If the issue is so unimportant that it didn't merit returning the survey, that is a good indication that they don't believe it will have serious consequences for their continued service.