THE BLOG
08/25/2011 06:53 pm ET | Updated Oct 25, 2011

Every Day, In Every Way, Accountability Is Not Getting Better

I should have mentioned this sooner but on the basis of better late than never let me point you to something that should have received greater attention

But before we get into it let me just remind you of two points that private military and security contracting folks always like to point out.

First, the vast majority of private military contracting has to do with logistics, not armed guards. In this, they are absolutely, inarguably correct.

Second, that despite past mistakes and problems in oversight and accountability of such contracts overall things are getting better. But are they really? To paraphrase Shakespeare's Hamlet, "To account, or not to account, that is the question."

So, keeping that in mind, let's go back to June when the Contracting Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing titled "Afghanistan Reconstruction Contracts: Lessons Learned and Ongoing Problems" ably chaired by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

The senator is not new to this issue, and given her past experience, as the Missouri Auditor, she knows more than most legislators about auditing. Thus, rather like the E.F. Hutton commercial, when she speaks on the subject we should listen.

I have a formal opening statement that's been prepared but I have decided to not give a formal opening statement and just express the reason for this hearing. This is not the first hearing we've had in this subcommittee on contracting in our contingency operations. And I have began working on this problem almost the day I arrived in the Senate. And I traveled to Iraq to do nothing but look at contracting oversight because I couldn't figure out how in the world things had gotten so out of control in terms of contracting in Iraq.

I went over to Iraq and I realized why it had gotten out of control. The contracting representatives in each unit were just the low man on the totem pole that had been handed a clipboard. There was no training, there was not sufficient effort made on sustainability. There were decisions made that frankly were made with an almost myopic look at the mission and not a realistic look at security and sustainability and competency in terms of available personnel to continue whatever money we were spending on reconstruction.

I mean, I always point out that the LOGCAP contract is probably -- if you look up an example, the initial LOGCAP contract, if you look up an example of everything wrong with contracting, that would be the poster child. People may not remember that the estimate for that contract for the first year was supposed to be under $1 billion. In the first year that contract cost our country $20 billion. It is just one example.

I want to try to focus today on reconstruction contracting. And the sad thing about this hearing is I've been hopeful back in 2007 that by this year, we would have done a lot to overcome some of the problems in reconstruction contracting in theater. This hearing does not make me feel good about the progress we've made. There has been some progress, but the American people can't afford this anymore.

Anyone who has ever studied history, however cursorily, is familiar with the famous saying of Spanish philosopher George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." So are we remembering? Sen. McCaskill thinks not.

I think if you look at the lessons that we've learned in the past in Afghanistan and Iraq, the government has been very slow to apply those lessons. And I'm not sure that the implementation of Afghan first is leading to the kind of outcomes that would make any American proud.

I'm not sure that the government and contractors have taken the steps necessary to provide the transparency and accountability that we have to demand in light of the incredible difficult decisions that we're faced with in the United States Congress in terms of our fiscal picture in this country.

For more on this issue see his blog, the PMSC Observer (isenberg.securitycontracting.net).