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Getting the Iraq Contractors Under Control: Hearing tomorrow and day of reckoning for the DOD, State and USAID

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Tomorrow we will find out how serious the reform bent Democratic Senators are in getting control of Iraq contractors. Tomorrow at 2:30 pm EST (you can live stream it here) the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (who names these committees?), chaired by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) will hold a hearing to see if they can pressure the DOD, State and USAID into getting control of the contractors. Full disclosure ... I will be testifying at the committee.

Freshman Democratic Senators, (Obama, McCaskill (who just endorsed Obama in his commercial), Webb, etc.) along with Senate government affairs subcommittee chair Tom Carper (who went to Iraq with McCaskill just to look at the contracting problem) have passed an impressive group of reforms. (As soon as the vetoed, but now fixed National Defense Authorization passes, these reforms will be signed into law.)

These reforms could, if enacted with good oversight could actually make a difference. Their crowning achievement was to establish a Wartime Contracting Commission, based on the old 1940s Truman Committee with the idea of investigating the Iraq contracting mess while the war is still going on, refer cases to DOJ, and fix the problems that the rush to war created. It will go for two years and the SIGIR (Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction) Bowen will be tasked to do the investigations for this Commission. Bowen will be testifying at the hearing.

I will be talking about what we found in the course of writing our book, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War. First is that we have put contractors onto the battlefield and hostile area and tasking them with basic vital logistics. Our book is full of examples of how the contractor decided it was too dangerous to do some of the work and troops did not have vital supplies and services outside the large bases. I will also talk about contractor threatened work stoppages in hostile areas because the bills were slow to be paid, and how contractor employees, who are doing the logistics that troops used to do, can just quit and go home, thus threatening the mission. Robert Bauman, my co-author and former DOD investigator, talk about the lack of oversight and the huge drain of money virtually unchecked to the contractors.

First SGT Perry Jefferies, one of the soldiers prominently featured in our book, will be testifying. He was responsible for the logistics of 1,800+ men at the beginning of the war. His story of lack of even the most basic supplies because of contractor failure and unwillingness to go beyond the bases is stark and frustrating. His men were reduced to rationing water and food because the contractor would not go to their remote base. They were so isolated that even took several months for Perry to find out that Bush landed on the aircraft carrier in the now infamous "Mission Accomplished" photo op.

The Center for Public Integrity recently put out a report with astounding facts. "U.S. government contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan have grown more than 50 percent annually, from $11 billion in 2004 to almost $17 billion in 2005 and more than $25 billion in 2006."

The Iraq mission, reconstruction, and troop levels have not increased by that percent so why are the contracts growing so fast? The contractor costs are out of control and will keep rising at this rate if nothing is done. This war, in constant dollars, will be the second most expensive war in history, even if we get out in the next two years. Can you believe that it will be more expensive than Vietnam, which lasted much longer and with many more troops?

The hearing will be asking the questions of what to do next. These Freshman Democrats and Carper got the legislation passed but now they have to get the bureaucracy to implement it. I am hoping that Carper and the Freshmen are determined to do the oversight so that these laws just aren't happy talk. They are calling up the oversight people, (SIGIR, GAO) on the panel with me and the second panel will have the DOD, State and USAID administrative people to ask what they plan to do about it.

So in this time where the economy is crashing, bailouts are on the way and there is no seeming end to our commitment in Iraq, these new reformers may have a chance in getting control of some of the money that is flowing to Iraq. There has been much made of Blackwater because of the potential crimes but their contract is only been about a billion dollars. The KBR logistics contract is estimated to have grown to $26 billion.

These hearings may be the beginning of Carper and the Freshman Democratic reformers to show that they can follow up and actually do something beyond the horror stories.