A Dairy that Milk Taxpayers

November 16, 1993

Lest anyone wonder why the United States faces a $4 trillion debt and Americans don't trust the federal government with their money, look no further than Gambrills, home of the U.S. Naval Academy dairy farm.

This farm has cost taxpayers millions of dollars over the years.

According to the most recent information, the Naval Academy could save up to $340,000 annually by contracting with a private dairy to provide milk and milk products to midshipmen. The price of milk at private dairies ranges from $1.74 to $1.99 per gallon; the academy's dairy milk costs $2.30 a gallon.

You can do better at your local mini-mart than you can at the academy's farm. It doesn't take a financial wizard to figure out what ought to be done with the dairy.

The government has known that the facility should go since the mid-1960s, when the General Accounting Office recommended

closing it. There have been other attempts to close it since, some by the Navy's own auditors. Yet Congress, Navy top brass, the academy's Board of Visitors and neighboring residents did their part to keep it open. Even now that the academy is exploring other uses for the Gambrills property, it admits only grudgingly that the farm wastes tax dollars. Just two weeks ago, an academy press release called it "a cost-effective source of food."

Why the unwillingness to kill this project?

Pressure from local residents has something to do with it. They don't want the farm developed and have succeeded in getting local elected officials to use their influence to keep it going. They want to preserve the rural character of their community, which is understandable. But at some point, parochial interests have to be weighed against the big picture. If a private dairy were losing money year after year, the owners wouldn't keep it in business just because the neighbors like the view. The government can't afford to do that, either.

With or without pressure from residents, the federal government hates to get rid of anything it has created, no matter how outdated, useless or unprofitable. That's the real reason the dairy is still around. Congress set it up in 1911 after a typhoid outbreak to provide a safe source of milk for the midshipmen. It was a temporary problem. Yet here it is, 1993, and the Academy is still using the dairy.

That's the way our government does business. And that's why this country is drowning in debt.

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