The Associated Press wrote a story, posted this morning as one of the lead stories on Huffington Post, on the Army's efforts to appoint five new Army generals to overhaul and oversee the disastrous contracting problems, especially in Iraq. The OMB at the White House rejected the plan. While I am loathe to agree with this administration, with their utter lack of oversight in Iraq and wasteful scandals that are just beginning to emerge, it is a large mistake to expect anyone in the military's general officer corps to reform this ruinous contracting mess.
As I wrote last Friday for the Huffington Post and in my very first post for the Huffington Post last year, the Army generals have not been willing to stand up to the contractors in Iraq. In these two posts and in my recent book, I outline how KBR was able to threaten and blackmail the generals into paying their overinflated bills under threat that the company would not serve the troops.
Having investigated military procurement fraud for over 28 years, I have seen generals put in charge of weapon systems and other military procurement with bad outcomes. It is bad for the general officer corps because they need to concentrate on war, including what the troops need to fight and the best system to supply them. Putting them in procurement and encouraging them to defend procurement disasters, places them right in the middle of the politics of weapons buying, therefore corrupting their warrior status. If the generals are rated on getting their military weapons through the Congress and the administration, it makes them concentrate on the safe road and to hide all monetary and weapons failures on their watch We have plenty of government civilian bureaucrats to run the money side of the DOD. They are much easier to be called to task or fired over a procurement failure.
I have seen members of Congress over the years call top bureaucrats in all the departments to task for failures but when that top bureaucrat has a row of stars on his shoulders, the members of Congress usually grow timid and fear to put him on the spot because it is unseemly to beat up on a general. It is also harder to relieve or fire a general because the general officers often claim that they represent and speak for the troops.
I don't expect this administration to take the tough steps to even begin to unravel the largest military procurement mess of our lifetimes. The scandals are out there in holding patterns, some in whistleblower suits hung up in the Department of Justice. I believe that 2009 see a cascade of these scandals since many of these lawsuits will emerge and insiders in the DOD will be willing to speak up again. If the Army really wants reform, they need to promote hard nosed managers in their civilian corps who are tough with the contractors instead of coddling them and greatly expand and promote tough, junk yard dog auditors and investigators in the DOD. I know that they are there...they are letting me know their frustrations in confidence. But don't put the generals in those positions. Keep them as warriors, that is their job...don't compromise them with procurement politics.