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OPINION: Sequester politics carry hidden costs

There was one moment in Rep. Michael McCaul’s address at the C4ISR Journal conference that I found especially telling. The topic was sequestration.

“Not to get political, but it was the president’s idea,” said the Texas Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. McCaul said “certain” people “are not taking on” the entitlements issue.

In other settings, this boilerplate line might have drawn applause, but you could have heard crickets chirp when it was uttered here.

The industry and military are beginning to reel over sequestration, both financially and in terms of the missions they’re trying to accomplish. The intelligence community should be a no-politics zone, but they've been dragged in. “We catch terrorists. It’s kind of important,” one biometrics specialist told me a few weeks ago.

As a conference attendee put it later, Congress needs to do its job.

The job should be to work it out with the president, regardless of who put the country in this pickle. There's an old expression about "losing the streets" -- meaning public opinion -- and that's starting to happen for Republicans in the defense and intelligence industries.

Damage to the Republican brand is one impact but there are others. No one can claim with a straight face that attending a conference is as important as the cuts that are starting to be felt in daily intelligence work. But the collateral damage is a loss of unclassified collaboration time for military and intelligence officials. As the Boston bombings are likely to remind us, old-fashioned person-to-person relationships are critical to effective intelligence sharing.

Not every problem can be solved inside a lead-walled sensitive compartmented information facility. That's especially true if the issue involves allies or international partners.

Military officers and intelligence officials shouldn't have to use personal leave time to attend a professional conference. We're lucky some of them are doing just that.

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