Defense Industry and Congress: No Shame in Sight

06/22/2006 09:08 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You would think that a $330 billion tab for two ongoing wars would create a bit of caution and conservation among those who profit from America's unparalleled military might. Not so. This week the Senate defeated an amendment that would have required tough oversight standards for military contractors. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but there is something to orchestrated collaboration. You have to wonder. The defeat of increased oversight likely made Halliburton happy (a company that gives 95% of its campaign contributions to Republicans).

Just who is benefiting from this outsourcing of our government? Certainly not taxpayers. The House Government Reform Committee's minority staff has reported an 86% increase in contracts with private businesses, from $203 billion in 2000 to $377.5 billion a year in 2005 -- a growth rate nearly double that of federal spending as a whole.

But the abuse of national security dollars is a special category of shame. And the facts, no matter how they add up, don't seem to make a dent in the problem. Yesterday the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that basically says the Air Force's prized F-22 should be shelved (this is a fighter plane designed for the Cold War that has caused egregious cost-overruns). This comes in the wake of the news that the Air Force is also planning to cut 40,000 people from its ranks in order to pay for weapons platforms (including the F-22).

When will our military leaders and our Congress fully understand that -- in today's post 9/11 world -- human beings ARE our best defense platform? There's a reason that Special Forces are the poster child of the military. They can shoot, speak foreign languages and set up a criminal justice system. No spangley widget nor contractor can do this as well. Our defense needs to be in the hands of such dedicated, well-trained public servants. (an investment that holds for all good government)

An officer once told me that what we're presently experiencing is the downside of the "joint" culture revolution in the military (jointness is a result of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986, which forced the military services to work together). He said that this joint culture prohibits competition between the services...that, as an Army guy he could gripe about Army tradeoffs and issues, but would be punished for saying anything critical about the Air Force. Perhaps this is just one of the reasons the military is its own worse enemy when it comes to setting priorities. Their monolithic approach to funding bridges no dissent. They recommend budget savings (like getting rid of personnel) that they know Congress will reject, put all the hardware goodies in the budget -- and end up getting most of both. The Defense Department needs to put everything on the table for a massive reorganization of priorities. We can't wait four years for another Quadrennial Defense Review--especially since the one last year was pretty much an exercise in denial.

Even the industry-ad supported Defense News has run articles recently about the need to rap the industry on the snout: They've criticized the practice of giving defense contractors bonuses for inferior work products, pointed out how the industry needs to produce useful items for the military in the post 9/11 era...and even showcased a speech by Navy Secretary Winter telling defense industry audience to stop being so greedy during wartime (granted, it rang a little hollow since Winter himself made millions in the industry). For Heaven's sake, even Republicans are telling businesses to dim their expectations...Last winter, the Bush Administration told industry execs to cool it and, more recently, Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R MD)advocated reducing the buy of the Navy's ultra-fancy Cold War era DDX to two demonstration ships. The Congressman even mused how "there is no threat out there for most of the new technologies we're developing." Truer words were never spoken. Now do something about it. For real.