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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Buying and Selling of the Pentagon (Part II)


The Buying and Selling of the Pentagon (Part II)

by: Dina Rasor, Truthout

Two weeks ago, in part one of this two part se­ries, I laid out the pro­blems of the milita­ry, the De­part­ment of De­fen­se (DoD) civilian, contra­ctor and Con­gres­sion­al staff going through the "re­volv­ing door" and great­ly blurr­ing the lines bet­ween work­ing for the milita­ry and lob­by­ing for contra­cts for the milita­ry. There are many, many in­dividu­als who re­vol­ve through these vari­ous roles throug­hout their long care­er to the de­ter­ment of nation­al secur­ity. These self-dealing prac­tices make weapons cost more, allow weapons manu­fac­tur­ing and de­sign er­rors to go un­stop­ped through pro­cure­ment pro­cess and wind up on the battlefield. These same prac­tices, done by the super­iors of our troops, also great­ly de­grade morale in the lower-level of­fic­ers and troops, which furth­er de­grade our over­all nation­al secur­ity. I laid out a lobby plan that I dis­covered in the 1980s show­ing that the DoD, Air Force and Loc­kheed had ban­ded togeth­er in il­leg­al ways to make sure that the Loc­kheed C-5B cargo plane was fund­ed de­spite its many pro­blems.

As most Trut­hout rea­d­ers know, Trut­hout was van­dalized just a few days after part one of this se­ries came out, so you may want to re­visit that col­umn to un­derstand the background to the rath­er dras­tic sol­u­tions that I will lay out in this col­umn today.

Let me give you a few more ex­am­ples of why we need to total­ly chan­ge the per­son­al in­cen­tives of those who are serv­ing in the milita­ry, contra­ct­ing with the milita­ry, serv­ing as civilian work­ers in the milita­ry and mem­b­ers of Con­gress and their staff who are over­see­ing the military's suc­cess and fund­ing.

In the co­ur­se of re­search­ing and writ­ing my 2007 book, "Bet­ray­ing Our Troops: The De­struc­tive Re­sults of Privatiz­ing War," I tell the story of a milita­ry of­fic­er who was work­ing with a gener­al on a base in Iraq to over­see KBR's contra­ct with the Army to pro­vide food, water, bar­racks, sup­pl­ies, and other logis­tics for the Army. This was an un­usu­al situa­tion since the Army had, in past wars, sup­plied most of their logis­tics in the dang­er zones of a war. The base man­ag­er for KBR, as his right as a civilian contra­ctor for the DoD, in­sis­ted that their bills be paid. The Army was late in pro­vid­ing the contra­ct money, but that was be­cause the Army and DoD auditors were wor­ried about the lack of bac­kup for the en­orm­ous costs that KBR had been runn­ing up. The KBR man­ag­er told the gener­al of the base that if he didn't have his bills paid for ASAP, that the KBR work­ers would not come out of their trail­ers and feed the troops the next day, nor de­liv­er vital sup­pl­ies. This was tan­tamount to a work stop­page on the battlefield, and al­though the gener­al tried to blust­er his way through, he had to cave and get KBR's poor­ly re­viewed bills paid, no matt­er what.

My sour­ces told me that this was hap­pen­ing on a roll­ing basis throug­hout the milita­ry bases in Iraq and that the gener­als had caved in to KBR each time. What was so as­tound­ing and dis­hear­ten­ing to me was that, to my know­ledge, not a single gener­al, based on pre­ssure from his top com­mand, quit rath­er than give in to an un­scrupul­ous contra­ctor, or even, after their tour in Iraq, quit his com­mand and went to the Con­gress and/or the media to tell them that KBR was blackmail­ing the Army with work stop­pages dur­ing a war. I was fol­low­ing all the at­tempts of re­form and over­sight on KBR in the Con­gress and, to my know­ledge, no gener­al even had the co­urage to leak this pro­blem an­onymous­ly to the media or the Con­gress to try to fix the pro­blem. The re­sult was that the troops did not get what they needed in equip­ment and sup­pl­ies and the un­scrub­bed costs of main­tain­ing this and other wars have be­come pro­hibitive­ly ex­pen­sive be­cause KBR has set the baseline for all other private logis­tic contra­cts in war­time.

I often won­d­er what Gen. Geor­ge Pat­ton would have done if a contra­ctor had tried to blackmail him in the battlefields of World War II. I sus­pect that he would have drawn his pearl-handled pis­tol and threatened to rea­rran­ge the nose of the blackmail­ing contra­ct man­ag­er.

Last De­cemb­er, Bryan Be­nd­er of the Bos­ton Globe wrote a se­ries of ar­ticles out­lin­ing other out­rages of milita­ry gener­als re­tir­ing with large pens­ions, but still self de­al­ing and an­gl­ing with contra­ctors and con­sult­ing firms to cash in to the de­tri­ment of the morale of the troops left be­hind.

Mem­b­ers of Con­gress and their staff and DoD civilian per­son­nel are also very guil­ty of this self-dealing and flip back and forth from the govern­ment and contra­ctor side of the fence. A new book, "The Pen­tagon Labyrinth," has an ex­cel­lent essay by G.I. Wil­son cal­led "Career­ism" and by Winslow Wheel­er cal­led "Con­gres­sion­al Over­sight: Will­ing and Able or Will­ing to En­able?" This book has a free electronic download.

As I wrote in part one of this se­ries, I don't be­lieve that the US can make real chan­ges to DoD pro­cure­ment until we chan­ge the in­cen­tives of the in­dividu­als who work in this cor­rupt sys­tem. All other at­tempts at re­form have quick­ly been de­for­med be­cause there are too many career­ists who are mak­ing money gam­ing the sys­tem - a sys­tem that also severe­ly punis­hes those who don't go along with the cor­rup­tion.

Hav­ing wor­ked for de­cades on try­ing to slow or close the re­volv­ing door to no avail, I be­lieve rath­er dras­tic ac­tion needs to be im­plemen­ted. These are not easy sol­u­tions, but I am now con­vin­ced that noth­ing else will stop the self-dealing.

The US milita­ry, es­pecial­ly the sen­ior of­fic­ers, claim that being in the milita­ry is a speci­al call­ing with speci­al rules and speci­al status. It is true in many ways. When you be­come a mem­b­er of the US Armed For­ces, you take an oath of of­fice and put your­self under milita­ry rules, cal­led the Uni­form Code of Milita­ry Just­ice. You no long­er have all the con­stitution­al rights and freedoms of civilians; you can't just quit your job and you can't re­fuse ord­ers ex­cept under very speci­al cir­cumstan­ces. This is neces­sa­ry in order to have co­hes­ion and to get men and women to risk their lives and work against their own self-interests in de­fend­ing the co­unt­ry, es­pecial­ly when we are at war. Many in the milita­ry will tell you that it is a speci­al and dif­ferent world, and the gener­als often bring this up be­fore Con­gress when their pro­gram man­age­ment is ques­tioned. It is much eas­i­er for mem­b­ers of Con­gress to pub­lic­ly critic­ize the top civilian man­ag­ers of the En­viron­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agen­cy or De­part­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices for mis­manage­ment, but it is much hard­er to critic­ize a gener­al in uni­form for lack of man­age­ment when he is tell­ing them that he wants "the best for our troops."

Sol­u­tion for the Gener­al Of­fic­er Corps

The gener­al of­fic­er corps, in which I in­clude the ranks of col­onel to four-star gener­als, have been one of the worst in ac­quiesc­ing to contra­ctors while they are in milita­ry ser­vice, so that they can get luc­rative de­fen­se contra­ctor jobs after they re­tire. What many peo­ple do not un­derstand is that the gener­als are not being paid so much for their know­ledge after they start work­ing for a contra­ctor, but for "ser­vices re­ndered" while they were still on ac­tive duty. It is im­por­tant to note that gener­als don't total­ly separate them­selves from the ser­vice when they re­tire; they just go on re­tired status and can be cal­led back into duty. They still use the title of gener­al, have size­able re­tire­ment pay and lots of perks for their ser­vice to their co­unt­ry. Still being con­nec­ted to the milita­ry re­tire­ment pay and perks with the title and a chan­ce to be re­cal­led back into duty gives them an im­mediate con­flict of in­terest when they go to work for a de­fen­se contra­ctor or a con­sult­ing firm that gets contra­cts from the DoD or a de­fen­se contra­ctor.

So, my re­form sol­u­tion for the gener­al of­fic­er corps re­quires them to make a choice. If they want to go work for or in­vest money in a de­fen­se contra­ctor, they must give up their title of gener­al and lose their milita­ry re­tire­ment pay and perks. If they think it is un­fair be­cause they ear­ned the re­tire­ment and the milita­ry rank, they can keep to a high­er call­ing and work in some other civilian in­dust­ry, as many gener­als did after World War II. (See my Janua­ry ar­ticle on the cor­rup­tion of the gener­al of­fic­er corps.) If the gener­als still want to work on milita­ry is­sues and strategy, they can go work for one of the myriad of non­profit or­ganiza­tions that look at milita­ry is­sues or over­sight, as long as they strict­ly stay away from any lob­by­ing ef­forts with the DoD or the Con­gress. They also can­not go work for a non­profit or­ganiza­tion that ac­cepts con­tribu­tions from de­fen­se contra­ctors un­less they give up their rank and pens­ions. They should also not be al­lowed to fill a civilian polit­ical of­fice in the DoD be­cause of the neces­sa­ry aut­hor­ity of civilian rule and they are still con­sidered milita­ry. These rules would not be sub­ject to any type of ex­ecutive or Con­gres­sion­al waiv­ers.

If the gener­als rea­l­ize what they would have to for­feit to go work for a de­fen­se contra­ctor, they may de­cide to stick to the high­er call­ing and drive the contra­ctors to de­liv­er what is best for the troops, not for their re­tire­ment.

Sol­u­tions for the Con­gress

Mem­b­ers of Con­gress often go to work or sit on boards of de­fen­se contra­ctors after they leave of­fice and they ac­cept cam­paign con­tribu­tions from de­fen­se contra­ctors while they are still in of­fice. Those con­flicts of in­terest hurt their ab­il­ity to serious­ly over­see Pen­tagon spend­ing to the de­tri­ment of nation­al de­fen­se. Therefore, mem­b­ers of Con­gress and their sen­ior staff (legis­lative as­sis­tants and di­rec­tors) must fol­low the same rules as the gener­al of­fic­er corps if they de­cide to go work for a de­fen­se contra­ctor or con­sul­tant. They must give up their Con­gres­sion­al tit­les, perks and re­tire­ment in order to work for a de­fen­se contra­ctor. They may ac­cept polit­ical ap­point­ments to the DoD and keep their title and pens­ions, but they can­not go to work for a de­fen­se com­pany after their ser­vice in the DoD and Con­gress be­cause of the in­side know­ledge they have gained dur­ing their govern­ment work. This will help focus the mem­b­ers of Con­gress and their staff on tough over­sight, some­th­ing that they might be re­luc­tant to do if they thought they were going to get a cushy contra­ctor or con­sul­tant job.

Sol­u­tions for De­fen­se Contra­ctors and Con­sul­tants

DoD contra­ctors make a good pro­fit and their work is vital­ly im­por­tant to the suc­cess of our troops. Be­cause their work with the DoD is so clear­ly a life or death situa­tion for our troops and af­fects the very base of secur­ity for our co­unt­ry, DoD contra­ctors must be given a very speci­al status from other cor­pora­tions. De­fen­se contra­ctors must be for­bidd­en to use any of their money to lobby or in­flu­ence the govern­ment with the threat of dis­bar­ment as the punish­ment. They also must be for­bidd­en to con­tribute to any polit­ical cam­paigns or non­profit or­ganiza­tions in­vol­ved in nation­al secur­ity. There can­not be any ac­cepta­tions. This will be the price in order to work on sup­ply­ing weapons and logis­tics for our nation­al de­fen­se.

Their sen­ior em­ployees also must re­cogn­ize their speci­al status, and if they de­cide to go work for the DoD or the Con­gress, they must give up all stock and pens­ions they accrued dur­ing the work with the contra­ctor. If these em­ployees de­cide to go work for the DoD or Con­gress, they will not be al­lowed to go back and work for a de­fen­se contra­ctor after they leave govern­ment ser­vice. They can go to work with any civilian contra­ctor or even in other branches of the feder­al govern­ment. This is vital­ly neces­sa­ry in order to stop the in­sidi­ous re­volv­ing door, spinn­ing from contra­ctor to govern­ment and back again. One of the pro­blems is that many of these de­fen­se contra­ctors have made them­selves to big to fail, so it is very hard to dis­bar them (there will be a Sol­u­tions col­umn on this pro­blem in the near fu­ture). So, there may have to be some legis­la­tion to fine their pro­fits (not the over­head paid by the tax­pay­ers!) if they are caught il­legal­ly lob­by­ing or using other ef­forts to in­flu­ence the govern­ment. No more ex­pen­sive ads on the Sun­day talk shows or full-page ads in The Was­hington Post tout­ing over­priced, de­fec­tive or in­ef­fective weapons.

I have made it a point in the Sol­u­tions col­umns that the sol­u­tions sug­gested for each col­umn should be rea­lis­tic and feasib­le. These sol­u­tions sound like draconian measures, but after so many years of try­ing to re­gulate the re­volv­ing door just to have waiv­ers, loop­holes and just plain mock­ing of the ex­ist­ing mild rules, I be­lieve that it is neces­sa­ry to make every­one who is con­nec­ted in work­ing on our nation­al secur­ity have a speci­al status of sac­rifice for our nation­al secur­ity. Our troops are sac­rific­ing their con­stitution­al rights and their lives every­day for us. The peo­ple that are sup­posed to be serv­ing them should do no less.

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