Friday, July 28, 2006

Privatizing the Public Pocket

This was the administration that was going to revolutionize government by privatizing damned near everything and they’ve made a pretty good move in that direction.

This was the administration that was going to revolutionize government by privatizing damned near everything and they’ve made a pretty good move in that direction. To hear them tell it, government was the problem and private business and industry the solution.
Privatize Made sense. Every generation from boomers to bloomers has their personal axe to grind concerning how dumb government agencies are and how smart the private sector proves itself to be.
But it ain’t necessarily so. To paraphrase George Gershwin, 

Dey tells all you chillun
De gov’ment's a villun,
But it ain't necessarily so
Bushrumsfeld_4 In the enthusiasm of the early days, Donald Rumsfeld decided privatizing would enable a war without a draft (and save a gazillion as well). He sub-contracted out the war in Afghanistan to the Reserves. That worked so well, in the eyes of The Beholder, that he sold The Decider on subbing out the whole Iraq operation to the Reserves, Halliburton and Blackwater .
Privatizing in war zones has legal and ethical ramifications and raises unanswerable questions about chain of command, but no matter.
Committed costs so far--a $trillion, maybe more. The costs in waste, single-bidder contracts, cost overruns, corruption and loss of operational control by the Army and Marines--beyond calculation.
Tomridge Heady times for The Privatizers during those dazed days after 9-11, when the strings seemed to come off of everything, including purses. A new Department of Homeland Security was cobbled together out of 22 separate agencies. Tom Ridge, the guy who got out quickly enough to let Michael Chertoff take the heat, pretty much fired everybody who knew anything. He pared down what staff was left and then privatized everything from airport screening to Katrina housing.
Committed costs so far, in an agency that has yet to see its fifth birthday, are a ‘who the hell knows?’ throwing up of the hands in exasperation. What is known is that their budget for 2006 alone (before Congress starts fiddling with it) is $50 billion. All they bought by privatizing and sub-contract, is thousands of unused and rotting mobile homes and a string of unprecedented embarrassments.
FDR, in his most wasteful days and during the nation’s worst ever financial collapse, was never able to shovel money out the doors in similar fashion. But there are upsides;
  • Because your and my kids didn’t get drafted, we privatized abu Ghraib and off-loaded America’s Geneva Convention compliance to civilian contractors.
  • Over at the Pentagon, while Donald was busy with other things, they totally lost track of $2.3 trillion in payouts. Lost track. Like it was the petty-cash account. The Pentagon’s own auditors admit it cannot account for 24% of what is spent.
  • With a $440 billion budget for next year, an additional (and annual) $110 billion will be laundered, like it was a mafia organization (which, in some ways, it is).
Interstate For sure it is the responsibility of government to oversee and authenticate the costs of services. The Interstate highway system didn’t get built by Senators with pickaxes. Connections maybe, but not pickaxes. Government contracts are by their nature watering holes for graft and the special treatment of special interests. It has ever been so.
What has not ever been so, is the wholesale firing of mid-level bureaucrats and their replacement by incompetent political appointees. That has gone on at a wholesale level across all segments of this administration. Worse, Republican connected businesses (some of them quickly formed for the single purpose of feeding at the trough) have been ushered in, given a single-bid contract and sent on their way.
What did they get in return for this largesse? Who the hell knows? Randy Cunningham got a Rolls-Royce and a couple million bucks from defense contractor Mitchell Wade and Wade was a penny-ante player. Halliburton, the best known and best connected of these criminal organizations, pocketed tens of billions of dollars doing things we used to do for ourselves—like feed and shelter our troops. All that’s privatized now.
When I was at Fort Leonard Wood, in boot camp, a scandal arose over a mess-hall cook who was trading butter for margarine and pocketing the profit. That was a scandal. It made headlines in the (local) newspapers. An investigation was mounted by the Inspector General and the cook was court-martialled.
Igdod Consider the case of one military accountant who tried to find out what happened to a mere $300 million at the Pentagon. According to CBS, Jim Minnery, a former Marine turned whistle-blower, risked his job by speaking out for the first time about the millions he noticed were missing from one defense agency's balance sheets. Minnery tried to follow the money trail, even crisscrossing the country looking for records. 
"The director looked at me and said 'Why do you care about this stuff?' It took me aback, you know? My supervisor asking me why I care about doing a good job."
He was reassigned and says officials then covered up the problem by just writing it off. 

"They have to cover it up," he said. "That's where the corruption comes in. They have to cover up the fact that they can't do the job."
The Pentagon's Inspector General "partially substantiated" several of Minnery's allegations but could not prove officials tried "to manipulate the financial statements."
I guess the IG at Fort Leonard Wood is dead, or at least retired by now.
Too bad.
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