Senator James Webb (D-VA) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) have introduced legislation to make a new congressional Truman commission to look at the waste and fraud that has wreaked havoc on the soldier and the taxpayer in our current war. The historical odds are against them. There have been dozens of Executive and Legislative branch commissions, committees and study groups all in the name of getting control of military procurement over the past sixty years. Most of them are either staffed by people who have reasons to keep the lucrative military procurement system in place or by people who are too naïve about the system and soon get rolled by the military bureaucracy and the powerful industry. Traditionally these commissions have produced reports that are still gathering dust in various archives. The last truly successful commission, dubbed the Truman Committee, was run by Harry Truman in the 1940s. These Senators want to pattern there efforts after that commission that actually jailed a general and got taxpayer money back from the companies who defrauded the government.
Something has to be done. A quick look at press stories and accounts this week show us that:
-- soldiers who are not near bases where the contractors work are still struggling just to get the basic needs while the contractors and their officers live the good life at the big bases;
-- Halliburton is reaping a large profit from the sale of KBR, the division that has the largest contract in Iraq;
-- Despite the DOD's promises to crackdown on labor abuses by US paid contractors, many abuses still exist;
-- New Pentagon plans project U.S. presence in Iraq until at least 2009.
Perhaps because the problem has grown so monstrous and the risk to the soldier so great, this commission can be a serious step toward real reform. In the past, the various commissions have looked at the wasteful and fraudulent actions of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC), which is deeply entrenched in our political system and very hard to reform. This commission will be looking at a new industry that I have dubbed the War Service Industry. This industry was born out of a need to service this war and future wars with the largest amount of private contractors in history.
Unlike the MIC, this industry has strong but new political connections and still may be able to be regulated and controlled. It will be hard, however, because the War Service Industry has spent its first four years with virtually no serious oversight. According to McCaskill's press release, a list of companies supporting this war does not exist and figures "on how much the government is paying contractors does not exist."
These two bring new and different backgrounds to this effort. Senator Webb is a highly decorated combat Vietnam veteran with a history of warriors in his family. With a son who has served in Iraq and his on-the-ground experience with war in Vietnam, he brings a sense of urgency and reality to examining how this new War Service Industry has failed the troops. He also, as Secretary of the Navy, done hand-to-hand combat with the military bureaucracy and knows their dodges and tricks.
Senator McCaskill is a former prosecutor, but more importantly, was the State Auditor for Missouri, so she knows about accountability and systems for accountability. She also has the "show me state" skepticism that will be vital to take on the bureaucracy and the contractors as they try to soothe these freshman senators into believing that all is well within the system.
This attempt to establish this commission is the first joint effort of the freshman senators. Perhaps they are the ones that can try to do this because they have not yet been compromised or worn out trying to get control of the voracious DOD budget. We can only hope that they can get this through the congressional system and past the President to be able to finally make our defense dollars work for the troops out in the field. They will need all our help to pull this off against poor historical odds.