Monday, August 27, 2007

Baghdad Highway Robbery

Perhaps the most galling thing about the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq is the cushy treatment given to military contractors, brilliantly chronicled in this Rolling Stone article.

I don't buy the premise that widespread military contract fraud began on January 20, 2001. But this administration does seem particularly lax in its pursuing of restitution for such fraud, and its contract assignment techniques are uniquely suited to fraud. This ought to be embarrassing to an administration that calls itself "conservative" and that wraps itself in the flag to make political points. Isn't allowing massive wasteful overspending by the government essentially anti-conservative? And how is allowing shoddy work to be done by contractors hired to do vital security and maintenance jobs "supporting our troops"?

Seriously, anyone who still has any illusion that the Bush administration stands for any sort of fiscal restraint or that the administration actually cares about the welfare of our troops should disabuse themselves of that notion right now. I'm trying to think of motives for the administrations negligence and malfeasance in this regard - I'm drawing a blank after I get past "cronyism." I really want to give Bush credit for at least having some sort of ideology that failed miserably, but I don't know what that ideology could be.

Either way, whoever the next president is could cut the deficit significantly by eliminating contract cheating, or at least bringing it down to manageable levels. Seems like pretty good financial policy. Why none of the current candidates have made a big deal about this is beyond me.

I'm also not sure I understand why Democrats in Congress aren't making more of a public stink about this. If I were leading the majority party in Congress, I'd be making a huge deal about contract fraud and inappropriate contract assignment procedures - not only is this stealing from taxpayers, but this is also jeapordizing the welfare of our troops. It's the right thing to do, and it's a political winner all around - how often can you say those two things about the same action at the same time?

Also, it's my understanding that if a contractor goes way over budget on a project in the private sector, or performs incompetently, their reputation gets hurt and they have a hard time getting hired on subsequent projects. Why don't we do this for government contracts? Part of the solution to this whole malfeasance thing has to be a willingness to look beyond Bechtel, KBR, and Halliburton for solutions to our military contracting needs. They can't be the only contractors willing to do this sort of work, can they? We have to be able to threaten a contractor with the idea that, if they screw up, they may not get taxpayers' business again. Most of this is the Administration's department, but couldn't Congress pass a law forbidding KBR (given the evidence cited in the Rolling Stone article) from accepting new federal contracts indefinitely, with this status open for review based on the manner in which they complete current contracts (which can't really be broken, I guess)?

Hey, that's a good idea. I'm gonna go write David Price (my rep) about that.

Incidentally, does anyone know if this "cost-plus" contracting style is SOP when contractors deal with private sector customers?

And on the lighter side, this is why we Tar Heels make fun of our quaint southern neighbors.


Mike said...

"Isn't allowing massive wasteful overspending by the government essentially anti-conservative?"

Yes, but anyone in the country who calls himself "conservative" and still supports Bush needs to be shown a dictionary at some point. For those who prefer a more direct description, I offer the following:

Tax cuts, spending cuts = conservative*
Tax cuts, spending increases = idiotic (see entries for Bush-43, Reagan)**

Hopefully that will clear up any confusion.

As for cost-plus, it really depends on the contract and the type of work being done.

* I would of course argue this aspect of conservatism would actually be good policy.
** Note how Bush-41, faced with a burgeoning deficit, called for a tax increase even after the "read my lips" thing and knowing it would cost him the election. Note it, and remember the days when Presidents occasionally did the honorable thing.

Michael said...

You said: I'm trying to think of motives for the administrations negligence and malfeasance in this regard - I'm drawing a blank after I get past "cronyism."

I think the phrase you were searching for was "gross incompetence," something the Bush Admin excells at.

Ben said...

I bet you could remind some ambitious Senator that Truman made his name fighting corruption in military contractors.

That's your history lesson for the day.