Determining Capabilities

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Earlier today there were a lot of news stories generated when the president-elect of the United States—whose name escapes me for the moment—criticized the Boeing corporation and/or the U.S. federal government for allegedly being involved in a deal to deliver a new version of Air Force One at a price tag to American taxpayers of 4 billion dollars. There has been much debate back and forth since then as to whether the 4 billion figure is accurate, or whether it’s actually 1 billion, or 16 billion. (Cue a great line I first heard via the lips of Bob Dole: “A billion here, a billion there: pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”)

Put all of that aside. The most disturbing thing, for my own money, was the official response of the Boeing Corporation to this situation, obviously intended to put to rest the hyperbole and allay everyone’s fears:

“We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States. We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Last I checked, $170 million is nearly one-fifth of a billion dollars. So, don’t worry folks, we’re not on the hook to Boeing for 4 billion for delivering a couple of 747s. We’re merely on the hook to them for about one-fifth of a billion “to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft …”.

Does anyone know what that actually means? Does anyone have any idea of why it would cost $170 million merely to “help determine the capabilities” of such aircraft?

Are we so dumb? Or could that question be sorted out with a couple of emails back and forth between the knowledgeable parties?

How could such a huge corporation, accepting incomprehensibly vast sums of taxpayer dollars, even consider offering such incoherent pablum as a defense against allegations of waste?

Of-course, if you’ve lived a little bit, you know only too well how nearly a fifth of a billion dollars can be spent on something so airily indefinable as helping to “determine the capabilities” of something. A bunch of people are hired (or promoted) to positions with very long and fancy titles. They need offices, and staffs, and there are project managers, and administrative people, and people to do many unaccountable things for all of the other people, and coffee to be brewed, and travel and entertainment, and health benefits, and … by the time you get past all of the expense of all of the airily indefinable business, paying only 4 billion dollars to deliver two actual working airplanes will probably seem reasonable to all concerned.

That’s what makes the world go round, right?

Today, for a moment, this style of earthly circumlocution came into question.

Is all I’m saying.

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