R. Lee Wrights: Waste and fraud pervade wartime contracting


Op Ed: Waste and fraud pervade wartime contracting

“Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” (James Madison)

by R. Lee Wrights

BURNET, Texas (Sept. 17) – The final report of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, chartered by the U.S. Congress, has concluded that at least $31 billion, and possibly $60 billion, has been lost to contract waste and fraud. They also found that not only did contractors sometimes outnumber the military personnel they were supporting, often the contractors were doing things only federal employees could legally do and oversight of their work was frequently absent or ineffective. But these were not the most disturbing findings of the commission.

The most disturbing and shameful finding of the commission was that our political and military leaders have known for 20 years that the United States could not conduct large or sustained contingency operations without heavy support from contractors. And to make matters worse, the government did not have the capability to provide effective management and oversight of contracting spending, did nothing to remedy the problem — and yes still committed U.S. forces to these military actions. The classic problem that ultimately brings down every empire is bureaucracy spreading resources and manpower tragically thin.

The report concluded that without correction the problem will only grow as projects are handed over to host governments who lack the capacity and resources to maintain them. At the same time, reliance on contractors is likely to expand because contractors will be needed to fill gaps left by withdrawing soldiers. In my view, this goes well beyond mere waste and fraud, but should properly be called what it is – corruption, incompetence and negligence for which those responsible should be held criminally liable.

Some of the waste and fraud even contributed directly to the death of American soldiers, including soldiers electrocuted due to faulty wiring in contractor-constructed showers. Commission co-chair Christopher Shays, a former Democratic congressman, classifies these deaths as “poor performance … both in government and contractor operations.” In typical bureaucratic fashion, the report does not blame any single-out or name any person or agency for blame. Shays dismissively explains it away with the comment, “There is plenty of blame to go around.” He says, “Responsibility for this state of affairs lies with Congress, the White House, federal departments, the military services, agency leadership, contractors, and individuals who abuse the system.”

This is the familiar flim-flam we have come to expect from government “investigations,” since the commission members are the very people who have been intimately involved in the very policy they were supposedly investigating. Everyone is responsible, therefore no one will be held accountable. Even so, the report found that much of the waste and fraud could have been avoided and cautioned that unless changes are made it will “undercut the effectiveness of money spent in future operations, whether they involve hostile threats overseas or national emergencies here at home…”

Shays most outrageous comment is to note that “even if you think” having more contractor employees in a war zone than combat soldiers is “reasonable, there are still problems.” You bet there are, Congressman. Such a policy is more than unreasonable, it is illogical, and unjustifiable. The first and greatest problem is that these soldiers – and the contractors needed to support them — shouldn’t be there in the first place. The second problem is that when we do use the military for its only Constitutional and proper role — to defend the United States from attack — our soldiers should only go into battle with all the equipment and people it needs to win. This report not only highlights the criminal negligence of our political and military leaders, and their contempt for the Constitution, it also has revealed another “smoke and mirrors” technique they use to mask what they are actually doing.

Much of the work done by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan involves the very vital task of military logistics. Simply put, this involves providing the “beans and bullets” to soldiers, housing them, feeding them, transporting them, providing them medical care, and giving them the weapons and bullets they need to fight. Logistics have been the key to victory in every American war since our War for Independence. Armies that have good logistics generally win; those that don’t lose. In modern warfare, it takes from four to seven soldiers in support roles for every combat soldier. In military parlance, this is called the “tooth-to-tail” ratio. Using civilian contractors to do what are essential military functions helps them “cook the books” to hide the number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines actually sent into these war zones.

Predictably the commission’s list of 15 recommendation for the problem of ineffective, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt officials is to spend more money, create more bureaucracy and layers of government, and appoint more officials. Let me offer a 16th recommendation: Stop the wars and bring the troops, and contractors, home.

Remember the Commission’s findings “…that at least $31 billion, and possibly $60 billion, has been lost to contract waste and fraud.” Imagine what they must spend in order to waste up to $60 billion. A miserable marriage between Poor Oversight and MisManagement bear the American taxpayers a burdensome set of twins — Careless Waste and Corruption. We need to stop the spending, at least until we are sure what we are paying for and how much it cost, not only in dollars but more importantly in lives. We obviously cannot trust the government to do something they have known for two decades they simply cannot do. Congress should focus on something that can be done, something that needs to be done. Remember the Wrights Recommendation! Stop the wars and bring the troops, and contractors, home.

Going to war accelerated the move from indirect to direct rule. Almost any state that makes war finds that it cannot pay for the effort from its accumulated reserves and current revenues. Almost all war-making states borrow extensively, raise taxes, and seize the means of combat – including men – from reluctant citizens who have other uses for their resources.” (Charles Tilly)

R. Lee Wrights, 53, a libertarian writer and political activist, is seeking the presidential nomination because he believes the Libertarian message in 2012 must be a loud, clear and unequivocal call to stop all war. To that end he has pledged that 10 percent of all donations to his campaign will be spent for ballot access so that the stop all war message can be heard in all 50 states. Wrights is a lifetime member of the Libertarian Party and co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty for All. Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., he now lives and works in Texas.

Brian Irving, Press Secretary