What is the value of the Stars and Stripes Mission?
Mission is to provide independent news and information to members of the military community needed to exercise their rights as citizens of the United States. It further provides-information needed to support the morale and readiness of the members of the military community.
Stripes content is unique and not provided by any other entity.
The newsgathering is conducted in accordance with the principles of the first amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Star and Stripes does not take or publish an editorial opinion but is dedicated to providing fair and balanced content on any issue to include providing divergent points of views from other news organizations.
Content is not the position of the Department of Defense entities but has been produced through the rigors of professional journalistic standards. This process ensures members of the military receive the credible and reliable information they deserve as they sacrifice to protect the democracy of the United States.
Stars and Stripes’ focus is on content that other news organizations do not provide. This is demonstrated by recent coverage of the coronavirus in South Korea and Italy and its impact on the US forces in those communities.
Stripes further, seeks to provide content to the military community that is needed to sustain readiness and morale. Topics such as financial planning, education opportunities, transition out of the military, things to do when assigned overseas, and tips to avoid difficulties when serving in overseas communities are just some of the vital topical areas.
What platforms for news and information are used and needed?
Stars and Stripes is a multimedia organization. Content is delivered in the manner desired and needed by the community. It is delivered with an understanding of the geographic and the operational environment. The news and information are delivered using all platforms – print, web, tablet, mobile device, e-newsletters, video, podcast and social media. Of the 1.4M + readers/viewers/listeners Stripes reaches on any given day, the majority engages through digital devices.
Nevertheless, in some geographic areas or delivery of niche content a print product is still vital. In many areas where servicemembers deploy the internet is not available to some personnel (gate guards, convoy members, trigger pullers on patrol, etc.) or so poor it is not an effective or reasonable method. In other locations personnel do not deploy with personal mobile devices, further limiting their access to digital information. In these areas a regular printed product is the only source of independent journalism.
Flexibility of delivery is essential
Stars and Stripes is operationally designed to provide content rapidly to the forces wherever they deploy. Unlike other news organizations whose decision to support a deployed force would be based on the profit advantage Stripes, is designed to support the mission first. Stripes opens and closes production and logistic operations quickly based on the Force needs.
This is partly why the U.S. Congress directed the operations of Stripes and why a direct appropriation is necessary. No other news organization will gather content from military communities around the world and then deliver to those communities. There is not a positive revenue business model to provide the vital news and information that the members of the military community deserve.
Is there a positive return on the appropriated fund investment?
The amount of direct funding Stripes receives is a very small portion of the DoD budget ($14.5M of a $705 billion budget). By contrast over 1.4M individuals on any given day engage with Stripes content. It is essential for the readiness and morale of the military community to have a well-informed force, who has access to reliable and credible information, and believes that the leadership of DoD can be held accountable for their actions through a free press.
Stripes is an enhancement to lethality by creating trust and confidence in leadership through the rigors of independent journalism and maintaining confidence that their loved ones are safe and have opportunities for an enjoyable life while their military member is away from home.
Stripes exists as the will of Congress.
It is appropriate to question the haste to defund the mission of Stars and Stripes. The will of Congress to ensure an independent news operation to serve the military community is codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (32 CFR Part 246) and DoDD 5122.11. The decision to defund the organization occurred without discussion with the congressionally mandated Ombudsman whose role is to review and advise on the operation of Stars and Stripes.
Why is timing significant?
The current direct appropriation funding expires 30 September 2020. Without future funding Stars and Stripes must make operational changes and in some cases those changes are not reversible. If organizational changes, such as elimination of frequency of delivery, service to deployed personnel, and closing of facilities, are not taken nonappropriated funds will be insufficient to sustain operations beyond the 1st quarter of FY 2021.
In the past, an appropriations bill has not been promulgated at the beginning of the fiscal year. For FY 2020 the appropriations act for the Defense Department was issued the end of December 2019. If a continuing resolution is issued for FY 2021 language granting Stars and Stripes funding would allow continuance of operations pending a final determination.
What is requested?
DoD public affairs managers through neglect have been improperly hollowing-out Stars and Stripes by gradually underfunding Stars and Stripes. The current decision to not seek funding is portrayed as better fiscal management but in reality, this is a cornerstone of an effort to reduce or eliminate the ability to provide independent news and information. Despite command requests for Stripes content, areas of service have been abandoned (for example Turkey, Greece, Djibouti) and emerging needed platforms have been minimally supported such as video and audio.
The current DOD proposal will eliminate approximately $15M on an annual basis. $7.5M+ is contingency funding which fluctuates with the operational environment. The remaining $7M+ is necessary for supporting the basic operations. The standard for a category B NAF is 65% of annual expenses. The $7M+ is 34% of total annual expenses.
In 1989 congressional commissions and language identified an inherent conflict of interest between Stars and Stripes mission and the public affairs community. The current public affairs strategy for the Defense Media Activity clearly demonstrates the ill fit Stars and stripes is within the public affairs community. The current process started with a proposal to transfer to another DoD entity, such as Personnel and Readiness who is responsible for NAF policy and operations.
This appears to be the right moment in time to seek a congressionally directed determination/study for the appropriate organizational design for Stripes mission within the Department of Defense.
Continuation of Stripes direct appropriation in support of its mission at a minimal funding rate of 65% of annual expenses and contingency/supplemental funding commensurate with the operational requirements should be sought. In addition, a report from DOD on the feasibility and implementation of reassignment of Stars and Stripes organization to an agency, other than public affairs, for oversight.
If an appropriations act is not issued by the beginning of FY 2021 then specific authority for appropriations to support Stars and Stripes operations be included in a continuing resolution until the final decision on the future of direct appropriations can be settled.