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.
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

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.
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).

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.
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

He was reassigned and says officials then covered up the problem by just writing it off. 

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.”

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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