Back in May, the US Air Force announced that they had received over 4,600 entries in their crowdsourced naming contest for the new B-21 bomber. The announcement even said that they’d narrowed it down to 15 finalists. So, naturally, I did what any weirdo blogger does: I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the list. Today I got a letter from the Air Force officially denying my request.
Everybody with an internet connection knows that crowdsourcing names for things can be a disaster. Just ask Boaty McBoatface. So when the Air Force decided to crowdsource the name of their latest high-tech B-21 stealth bomber, I was intrigued. Especially since development of the aircraft is believed to be costing somewhere north of $42 billion. (The actual price tag is a secret.) Spending billions on the latest high-tech killing machine capable of carrying thermonuclear weapons and then turning over the naming of the thing to “the crowd” seemed like an odd choice. And I really wanted to know if anyone suggested something like Bomby McBomberface.
Granted, participation in the naming contest was only open to members of the US Air Force and their families. But that makes it all the more interesting. Will the 12-year-old daughter of an Airman be naming the Air Force’s new bomber? What are the safeguards to make sure references to dank memes don’t get plastered all over the B-21?
The denial letter I received to my FOIA request states that the B-21 Integration and System Management Office “determined that the requested records are properly withheld at this time in accordance with 5 U.S.C. §552a Exemption (b)(5), as pre-decisional, deliberative process information.” That’s the exemption that’s sometimes known as the “because we can” exemption in FOIA requestor circles.
The letter goes on to say that the Air Force “will release and post a list of the names officially considered by the Air Force” online after a final decision on the bomber has been made. That part about releasing names that were “officially considered” makes me think that perhaps we’re not going to see the Bomby McBomberfaces and Harambe Fly So Highs that were submitted. But we’ll see, I guess.
The letter contained a bit of news I wasn’t expecting. My FOIA request also asked for the list of 15 finalists that were being considered. The Air Force now claims that this list was never made, despite the fact that I got this information from an official Air Force press release.
If the Air Force thinks I’m trying to spoil their fun, I’m not. And I can live with waiting a bit longer for the list. The Air Force Association’s Annual National Convention is coming up later this month, and we’re supposed to hear the official name for the B-21 there. But I do think that it’s worth exploring why they decided to crowdsource this naming process in the first place.
I also think it’s worth finding out whether the B-21 project has cost $33 billion, $42 billion, or $100 billion (the Air Force won’t say, and Senator John McCain thinks that’s bullshit) before these things start zipping through the skies in 2025.