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(Courtesy of the Government Accountability Office)

WASHINGTON — Enforcing the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law cost the Defense Department nearly $200 million in administrative, recruiting and retraining costs over six years, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The figure includes roughly $53,000 for each of the 3,664 gay servicemembers dismissed from fiscal 2004 through fiscal 2009.

According to the report, the majority of the expense came from recruiting replacements and retraining the new troops. More than a third of the discharged troops held “skills in critical occupations.” That included 23 language experts, whose training included years of language proficiency work prior to their dismissal.

But GAO researchers also estimated that the ban on openly gay troops also cost almost $8 million in administrative expenses. That includes legal work, commanders’ inquiries, pastoral counseling of servicemembers, and processing of separation paperwork.

In a response to the report, military officials disputed the figures, particularly those connected to recruiting totals. The dismissed troops represented only a small fraction (less than 1 percent) of the services’ recruiting goals for those years, so defense officials argue that no new real cost was incurred in finding replacements.

In 2005, the GAO released a similar report pegging the cost of enforcing the law from 1994 to 2004 at only about $100 million. But researchers said the earlier figures did not include administrative costs, certain training expenses, and many enlistment bonuses put in place 2003.

Gay rights groups have pegged the costs of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at more than half a billion dollars over the law’s 17-year history, but conservative opponents and defense researchers have disputed those figures on similar grounds. More than 14,000 gay troops have been dismissed under the law since it was passed in 1993.

The law was effectively repealed by Congress last month, although the ban won’t formally be lifted until defense officials finalize new rules and regulations for gays serving openly until later this year. Pentagon officials have not released a timetable for that.

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