Last Wednesday, in the middle of the Larry Craig scandal and close to the upcoming Labor Day weekend, the Army announced two investigative initiatives concerning contractor spending on the Iraq war. This announcement happened just days after it was reported in the Washington Post that the DOD planned to ask the Congress for another $50 billion for the war on top of the existing $147 billion request before the Congress.
To stop the immediate bleeding of money from the Army contracts, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren plans to have the Army examine around $3 billion worth of contracts that were in Kuwait because there has been fraud found in the letting of contacts in that area. There have been 20 military and civilian Army employees indicted for contract fraud. It sounds like a very large review but keep in mind that KBR alone has had more than $20 billion in contracts since the war began.
In the longer term, the Army has set up a Special Commission on Army Contracting which will report in 45 days to see if the Army can "ensure future contracting operations are more effective, efficient and transparent." The Commission will be headed up by Jacques Gansler, a former DOD official who has been revolving in and out of the Pentagon since the 1970s.
This sounds like welcome help considering the contracting disasters of the Iraq war. As I exposed in my book, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, this massive outsourcing of the war to contractors has drained the US Treasury while not providing the soldiers what they need to fight this war. I am concerned that this new war service industry will continue to bedevil the DOD and the troops even after this war is over.
However, the Pentagon archives are full of commission and task force reports that were supposed to bring change. Sometimes these commissions were set up merely to deflect criticism during a rash of scandals or to appease an upset Congress. Some of these commissions really had good intentions but institutional pressures made sure that their reports gathered dust with little or no change. I would like to hope that the Army's actions are more than a Kabuki dance to ward off more biting Congressional investigations and not just to get their next $200 billion money fix.
Dr. Gansler has his work cut out for him. He currently runs the University of Maryland's new Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, which, according to the university, "fosters collaboration among the public, private and nonprofit sectors to promote mutually beneficial public and private interests."
Hmmm....I guess I am worried about this because I see too cozy of a relationship between the Army and their private contractors in Iraq. The Army has allowed the contractors to walk all over them, bill outrageous sums and even threaten work stoppages in a war zone to get paid. Since there are now more contractors in Iraq than troops, we have to wonder if this new war service industry "collaboration" with the Army needs to be fostered or whether the Army has to stand up to the contractors despite the politics. The Army needs to insist that the contractors fulfill their duties and finally give the troops what they need. This will require criminal and civil prosecutions beyond going after some of the small time crooks and going after the systemic fraudulent practices of the big and politically connected contractors.
Will the Army reform itself during this war? The odds are against it. Most effective reforms of military contracting have come only because the Congress has passed laws insisting on it. Congressional and media exposes of fraud and waste helped pass reform laws in the Congress during the 1980s (most of these reforms have been wiped out in the past 20 years) and the Truman Commission in World War II actually did indict large defense contractors in a war and even jailed a general. I will be watching the Army very carefully in the next 45 days to see if they really get a handle on this unprecedented yet underreported scandal. The Congress could help these investigations along by putting in their own reforms to "help" the Army to do the right thing.
History is against any meaningful reform but our troops deserve no less. They are putting their lives on the line and the Congress and the Army must give them what they need, not what the contractors need to make a profit.