Thursday, May 20, 2010

Corruption As Far As The Eye Can See

Here is a preface by Tom Engelhardt to an article by Christopher Hellman on Pentagon waste:
When it comes to the Pentagon and the U.S. military, wherever you look, there’s money being handed out. Wildly and in staggering amounts. Early this month, for instance, the U.S. Army announced that it had awarded KBR, the private contractor which was once part of Halliburton, a contract worth up to $568 million through 2011 “for military support service in Iraq.”

This is the same KBR that has regularly been accused of improprieties of all sorts. As it happened, the Army made its announcement, noted Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News, “only hours after the Justice Department said it will pursue a lawsuit accusing the Houston-based company of taking kickbacks from two subcontractors on Iraq-related work.” Even though the company has been the object of numerous investigations and law suits, and is the Blackwater (now Xe) of construction firms, as well as a prime victor in the Bush administration’s military privatization sweepstakes, this was a no-bid contract. Given the Pentagon’s spending track record, none of this should surprise you.

Or consider Mission Essential Personnel, a firm that, unlike KBR or Halliburton, you’ve undoubtedly never heard of. No wonder: only three years ago, it was a tiny military contractor taking in $6 million a year. Recently, however, it garnered a one-year $679 million contract to “field a small city’s worth of translators to help out American forces in Afghanistan.” (And again -- surprise, surprise! -- a no-bid contract.) “Not bad,” writes the invaluable Noah Shachtman at his Danger Room website, “for a company that’s been accused of everything from abandoning wounded employees to sending out-of-shape interpreters to the front lines.”

Or here’s another Shachtman find: defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton managed to corner a bevy of contracts worth $400 million in recent weeks to help fight future cyberwars, despite a stated Pentagon policy of relying less on outside contractors. In fact, the Pentagon is only now -- and only modestly -- reining in its long-running “senior mentors” program in which retired generals and admirals on the payroll of defense contractors (and on military pensions ranging up to $220,000 a year) are brought back as consultants at prices that run to $440 per hour. “In some cases,” reports USA Today, “mentors were paid by the military to run war games involving weapons systems made by their consulting clients.”
I remember reading stories in 2003 about bags of money going missing and the unaccountability of spending in Iraq. That was 7 years ago. I remember reading in 2004 about Halliburton charging extortionate rates for delivering fuel to troops. That was 6 years ago. It is really disheartening to read that the same corrupt companies are still getting contracts -- and not just ordinary contracts awarded under a competition system, but "no-bid" contracts, i.e. contracts given directly to one company without any investigation of whether there is another competent company willing to deliver the service for the same or less. The "no-bid" process is exactly how you get corruption. And it is still going on!

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