Space Force or space farce?

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President Donald Trump hands a pen to Air Force Gen. Paul Selva after signing "Space Policy Directive 4" in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump hands a pen to Air Force Gen. Paul Selva after signing "Space Policy Directive 4" in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Space Force would be by far the smallest military service


AP National Security Writer

Friday, March 1

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s proposed Space Force, which faces an uncertain fate in Congress, would be the smallest military service — by far.

Details of the Pentagon’s proposal released Friday show the new service would have about 15,000 personnel, including an unspecified number of civilians, but would begin in 2020 as only a headquarters of about 200. The proposal was submitted Wednesday to Congress, which must authorize the new service.

Space Force would be the first new military service since an independent Air Force was established in 1947 as part of a broad reorganization of the government’s military and intelligence agencies.

Space Force would reside within the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps exists within the Department of the Navy. It would have its own chief of staff, a four-star general who would answer to the secretary of the Air Force, currently Heather Wilson.

Currently the smallest branch of the armed forces is the Coast Guard, which has about 40,000 active-duty members in uniform and is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The second-smallest service, the Marine Corps, has 186,000. The biggest military service is the Army, with 487,500 active-duty members.

President Donald Trump has pushed the Pentagon to create a Space Force that is “separate but equal to” the other military services. His first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, initially was cool to the idea, arguing against adding expensive new layers of bureaucracy.

Critics have questioned the need to create a Space Force as a separate military service, noting that there are relatively small numbers of people required to carry out space-related missions. The Pentagon argues that a separate service will give space issues a stronger voice within the military and create a special space culture and expertise.

The plan submitted to Congress calls for phasing in a Space Force over five years beginning with the 2020 budget year. This would add an estimated $2 billion in costs beyond what is spent on existing military space activities. Many details of the new service have yet to be worked out, including whether it would have its own boot camp for recruits and whether it would have its own uniform design.

Not all space-related government activities would fall under the Space Force. It would not include the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and maintains intelligence satellites in space.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a written statement Friday calling the proposal “an historic moment for our nation,” ensuring the U.S. can “compete, deter and, if needed, win in a complex domain.” He credited Trump with a “bold vision for space.”

While many in Congress support organizational changes to improve U.S. space defense capabilities, some key members question the wisdom of creating a separate military service. Among the doubters are Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, also has questioned the need for a separate service.

Opinion: America Deserves Quality Infrastructure

By Matthew Kandrach

The Senate Commerce Committee in February took up how multiple transportation modes — trucking, railroads and ships — can best collaborate to maintain and upgrade a transportation network built to support the American economy and consumers. No such system can exist without a well-functioning highway system. Like anything in Washington though, the ability to do so comes down to money and how best to generate it.

While many in Washington, including the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, continue to advocate for increasing the gas tax, a more immediate change could be enacted to help fund roads and bridges and address deteriorating conditions: charge heavy trucks by the mile and the weight of their vehicle, instead of the amount of fuel they consume.

The reasoning is simple.

Since 2008, Congress has taken $143 billion from the general taxpayer funds to pay for infrastructure projects out of the Highway Trust Fund. This is due to the clear shortfalls of the gas tax — last modified in 1993 — which cannot keep up with present demand. Cars and trucks are more fuel efficient, meaning that they fill up at the gas pump less often, which undermines the ability for gas tax revenues to pay for highway projects.

In the case of electric vehicles, which the federal government already subsidizes and which many progressive politicians hope will grow in popularity, drivers pay zero in gas taxes. Yet these vehicles use the roads the same as most drivers sticking with the combustible engine.

This has led politicians across Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — to increasingly embrace the notion of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee or a mileage based user fee (MBUF), which would charge drivers based on the miles they drive.

Both the chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee continue to voice support for a change. And in January, a host of organizations — including Consumers Action for a Strong Economy — sent a letter encouraging Congress to move forward with national VMT pilot program. The idea is hardly new, as the 2009 National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission recommended a wholesale shift to a VMT over time.

Yet American Trucking Association president and CEO Chris Spear was right when he recently told Congress such a transition would be complicated and require retrofitting for millions of automobiles. What Spear and the trucking lobby didn’t acknowledge, however, is that a VMT fee program for trucks could be enacted easily. These behemoths already have “electronic logging devices,” which track mileage, and these vehicles impose the largest, uncovered costs on the highway system.

While commercial vehicles are critical to the economy and pay a considerable amount in taxes, studies across the board show they do not financially make up for the burden they impose. Robert Atkinson, former chairman of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, says the implementation is “simple.”

“The truck receives a one-way GPS signal to allow it to identify its location and an onboard computer loaded with price-per-mile data for all the roads across America. Additionally, trucks would be equipped with wireless axle-weight sensors, allowing the onboard computer to calculate an additional surcharge based on pavement damage (a formula that factors the type of road and the truck axle weight). The computer would then remit taxes monthly to the federal Highway Trust Fund and to every state the truck traveled through.”

As the R Street Institute, who also signed the letter to Congress notes, such a system would also be more equitable. “Empty trucks on resilient roads and easy-to-fix roads would pay less for their trips than heavy trucks on costly-to-fix roads. The distinction makes sense, since repaving busy urban arteries is more disruptive and costs more than fixing less vital ancillary routes. Some states, like Oregon, have already embraced this approach to positive effect.”

Congress will continue to evaluate infrastructure financing over the next two years especially. The Trump administration seeks a large bill to revitalize our roads and bridges. While just one piece of the puzzle, a commercial VMT would be an easy place for lawmakers to start.


Matthew Kandrach is president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market oriented consumer advocacy organization. He wrote this for

The Conversation

Food is medicine: How US policy is shifting toward nutrition for better health

January 18, 2019


Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean, cardiologist, professor, Tufts University

Jerold Mande, Professor of Nutrition, Tufts University

Renata Micha, Associate research professor, Tufts University

Disclosure statement

Dr. Mozaffarian reports research funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation; and personal fees from GOED, Nutrition Impact, Pollock Communications, Bunge, Indigo Agriculture, Amarin, Acasti Pharma, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, America’s Test Kitchen, and Danone; scientific advisory board, Elysium Health (with stock options), Omada Health, and DayTwo; and chapter royalties from UpToDate; all outside the submitted work.

Renata Micha receives funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Jerold Mande does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Tufts University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

In this new year, millions of Americans will make resolutions about healthier eating. In 2019, could U.S. government leaders further resolve to improve healthier eating as well, joining public health experts in seeing that food is medicine?

In 2018, Congress initiated a series of actions that represent a shift away from placing the full responsibility – and blame – on individual people to make their own healthier choices. These actions also show a growing recognition that many stakeholders – including the government – are accountable for a healthier, more equitable food system. This shift in thinking reflects an understanding that government can and should play a role in improving the diet of Americans.

As faculty members at Tufts University, our expertise spans clinical medicine, nutrition science, public health, policy analyses, Congress, federal agencies and government programs. It’s clear to us that the time is right for meaningful policy action to leverage food as medicine.

Why healthier eating is a national priority

Poor diet is among the greatest health and societal challenges of our time, causing death and disability, soaring health care spending, budget challenges for governments and private business, diminished military readiness and population disparities.

Medicare and Medicaid, the government programs that pay for medical care for people over age 65, low-income families, and the disabled, now consume US$1 in $4 in the federal budget. In addition, nearly $1 in $5 in the entire U.S. economy is spent on health care, creating massive threats to the health of the national economy.

Diet-related diseases are major contributors to these expenses. For example, the annual medical and economic costs of heart disease and stroke are estimated at $316 billion; of diabetes, $327 billion; and of all obesity-related conditions, $1.42 trillion. These costs create enormous economic challenges for federal and state governments as well as for private American businesses, families, and individuals through rising health care premiums, out-pocket-costs, missed work and lower productivity.

Diet-related health burdens and costs also influence military readiness. Two-thirds of active duty military forces are overweight or obese, while 71 percent of young Americans are unable to join the military for one or more reasons, with obesity as the leading medical disqualifier.

The overall U.S. food system – including farming and imports, supermarkets and retail, restaurants and cafeterias, and food manufacturers – also reflects and contributes to profound disparities, especially among children. Minorities and the poor often have the worst diets, causing a vicious cycle of poor health, lower school performance, lost productivity, increased health costs and poverty.

Hungry for good food

As policymakers increasingly recognize the depth and breadth of these effects, they are beginning to act. In January 2018, House lawmakers created a bipartisan “Food is Medicine” working group, dedicated to innovations in nutrition policy to improve health and reduce diet-related health costs. Simply the existence of a group in Congress focused on “Food is Medicine,” which hosted multiple briefings for congressional staff on key legislation to integrate nutrition into federal policy, is an advance.

On June 7, 2018, Congress instructed the U.S. Government Accountability Office to perform a comprehensive assessment and accounting of all federal policies related to food, chronic diseases and health care costs. The GAO is the government “watchdog,” providing independent audits of agencies and policies. The GAO has been asked to investigate six specific questions across diverse federal agencies and programs, including the evidence linking diet to chronic diseases, the corresponding national and federal health care costs, and the current strategies and missed opportunities to reduce these risks and costs. A series of GAO reports on food policy will likely come out in 2019 and 2020. The launch of this investigation represents a federal milestone for its scope and recognition of the opportunities in food policy.

The 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018, included several important provisions for healthier eating, especially in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which supports about one in seven Americans. This included expansion of the fruit and vegetable subsidy program to $250 million, a new $25 million Produce Prescription Program and strengthening of SNAP-Education, a $400 million/year nutrition education program. Several of these advances were recommended by the 2018 Bipartisan Policy Center report on healthier SNAP, chaired by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., and USDA Secretaries Ann Veneman and Dan Glickman.

While there were advances in the Farm Bill, a proposed amendment to include pilot testing for medically tailored meals was rejected. Medically tailored meals are ready-to-eat, personalized meals provided at home to low-income patients with complex medical illnesses like cancer, HIV, diabetes or heart failure. Several recent studies show that providing medically tailored meals to patients is associated with reduced hospitalizations, emergency room visits and overall health care spending. While this is a missed opportunity in the Farm Bill, the state of California is currently testing the effects of medically tailored meals on health outcomes and costs in a $6 million Medicaid intervention across six counties, which will provide new evidence for possible future national expansion.

Your produce is ready

Among the Farm Bill changes, we believe that the new Produce Prescription Program holds special promise. Already offered by some nonprofit and private insurance programs, this new federal program will allow doctors to prescribe not just medications but also subsidized purchases of fruits and vegetables. While the $25 million represents a small relative investment, this direct federal commitment to evaluate produce prescriptions in health care has the potential to provide evidence to support future expansion throughout Medicaid and Medicare.

Together, these congressional activities in 2018 represent an evolution toward incorporating and addressing nutrition, diet-related diseases and their health care costs in federal policy. These actions build upon mounting public awareness of the central role of food in well-being; the accelerating consumer demand for, and corresponding industry shifts toward, healthier foods; and the growing recognition that individual consumers cannot be solely responsible for the current challenges in the food system.

Recommended policy actions

The recent congressional actions toward viewing food as medicine coincide with new scientific evidence on how specific government policies can improve nutrition and well-being, reduce health care costs and reduce disparities.

We believe that meaningful progress on these national challenges will require far more substantive policy changes that can make healthier eating the easy, accessible, less expensive option. Based on recent reviews of the science as well as our new research, particularly promising federal government strategies for consideration include:

Strengthening of nutrition standards in schools, after school, early childhood education programs and child feeding programs, as well as in cafeterias at federal worksites and other federal facilities, such as prisons and Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Federal incentives to incorporate nutrition into corporate worksite wellness programs, such as personalized, interactive technology platforms, gameification and economic incentives already available in private insurance and corporate programs.

A federal excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and junk food, especially if tax revenues are used to subsidize healthier foods, making the latter’s prices both more affordable and closer to their true societal value.

Integrating nutrition into health care, including in the electronic health record, medical education and licensing standards, fruit and vegetable prescriptions, medically tailored meals, provider quality and reimbursement guidelines, and risk-sharing arrangements that incentivize providers to improve the health of their communities.

Leveraging the $70 billion per year SNAP program for better nutrition for low-income families, for example through further strengthening of SNAP-Education, increased subsidies for fruits and vegetables and a combined food incentive/disincentive program to nudge people toward healthier choices.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeling standards and limits for additives such as salt, trans fat and added sugar; marketing standards to protect children; and evidence-based health claims for products that can help achieve better health.

Increased federal research funding, including a new National Institute of Nutrition at the National Institutes of Health; as well as economic incentives for transparent public-private partnerships for health-focused food innovation and entrepreneurship.

Policy change is often not linear. Based on the significant impacts of nutrition on disease, health care, the economy, military readiness, disparities and the environment, federal actions in 2018 laid the foundation for nonpartisan federal leadership to create meaningful and lasting solutions.

President Donald Trump hands a pen to Air Force Gen. Paul Selva after signing "Space Policy Directive 4" in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) Donald Trump hands a pen to Air Force Gen. Paul Selva after signing "Space Policy Directive 4" in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
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