Unintended Consequences ~ The Privatization of Our National Security

As corporations cash in on lucrative contracts, they encroach on the political process, driving up military spending and influencing military and foreign policy.

August 31, 2011 — When I received my draft notice for service in the Vietnam War, I had the best job of my life up to that time. I was a cameraman for a local television station in my hometown. I had worked my way up to the position after having been in the properties /art department for a year, and I loved it. I always came to work early and I usually stayed late. I volunteered for weekend work videotaping the following week’s worth of afternoon children’s programming: Fireman Frank, Cap’n Scotty, Captain Bernie and Friends. I did so not so much for the overtime as for the sheer joy of the work. When the station needed volunteers to go out on remote recording jobs, athletic competition events, church services, civic and seasonal events, mine was always the first name on the list.

When I told my department head about my draft notice, he advised me to get all the training I could from Uncle Sam. He also assured me that my job would be waiting for me when I got back. Of course, that was the law back then; employers had to rehire draftees after they completed their two years of service obligation. So, that became my plan. I would get some education in communications equipment repair, avoid combat if I could, and come back to this great job.

Of course, things don’t always turn out like we plan. After taking the Army’s battery of tests at the beginning of my Basic Training, I found out that I would have to reenlist in the Regular Army and be in for four years rather than two to get the training and MOS (military occupational specialty) I wanted. Otherwise, the odds were high that I’d be given a combat MOS like Infantry, Armor or Artillery. Reluctantly, knowing that I would be nullifying my draftee civilian job guarantee, I signed up for it. Later, caving into the siren song of OCS (Officers’ Candidate School) and subsequent training as an aviator, I never got the training in electronics. Somebody else did though.

In today’s all-volunteer military, many of the MOSs and inherent training opportunities our young people used to have are no more. Tasks in technical fields are now performed by civilian contract employees so that force structures could be reduced and more military personnel could be released for combat MOSs. In fact, over the past 30 years or so, this country has undergone a total transformation in the way it prepares for, conducts, and mops up after war. The Pentagon has overseen a large-scale effort to outsource all aspects of its operations to private corporations. But despite the claims of privatization proponents, there’s scant evidence that private firms perform better or at lower cost than public-sector agencies. More troubling, as corporations cash in on lucrative contracts, they encroach on the political process, driving up military spending and influencing military and foreign policy. Sadly, this contributes to the high unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Who has work state-side for an Infantry grunt?

It gets worse http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Panel-Widespread-waste-and-apf-350120231.html?x=0&.v=1. According to the Commission on Wartime Contracting which was established by Congress in 2008, as much as $60 billion in U.S. tax dollars has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. This waste, the commission’s report says, is due to lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption. In its final report to Congress, publicly released today, the commission said the waste could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes, leaving Iraq and Afghanistan to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American money.

Didn’t President Eisenhower warn us about the Defense Industrial Complex?

Gee, $60 billion – that would go a long way toward resolving pay inequities for our nation’s teachers.

Despite the popular image of defense contracts being for the building weapons systems like aircraft, missiles, or tanks, contracts for services are actually more typical. I know, I was in the business for ten years after retirement from active duty. Service workers, not production workers, accounted for nearly three out of four contract-created jobs in 1996, up more than 50% since 1984 — this according to a Dollars and Sense magazine article in 2004 http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/National_Security/PriviteNationalSecurity.html. Growing legions of contracted employees install, maintain, trouble-shoot, operate, and integrate military hardware. Similarly, research and development work is increasingly farmed out. (Navy technical centers outsourced 50% of research, development, test, and evaluation work by 1996. This was up from 30% in 1970.) Other, lower-skill, service contract firms perform a vast number of other functions from base maintenance and catering and support, to security detail and military training. Most of these jobs are being performed by locals.

Overall, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said, spending on contracts and grants to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to exceed $206 billion by the end of the 2011 budget year. Based on its investigation, the commission said contracting waste in Afghanistan ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent of the $206 billion total. Fraud during the same period ran between 5 percent and 9 percent of the total.

The commission’s report includes recommendations for Congress. Among them are: government agencies should overhaul the way they award and manage contracts in war zones so they don’t repeat the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. The commission also recommends the creation of an inspector general to monitor contracting and the appointment of a senior government official to improve planning and coordination.

This sounds good to me. However, some in Congress will undoubtedly say that this so-called, suspected waste is just the cost of doing business. It’s to be expected. They will further complain that establishing a new inspector general’s post with inherent staff and administrative costs will just be more “creep of scope” by the federal government. Accordingly, our currently “dysfunctional” Congress will likely be unable to make any decision at all, and the commission will have wasted its time and efforts to expose some of the unintended consequences of the privatization of our national security.

Since Congress is not likely to do anything about this waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ money anyway, I have a more challenging suggestion. Let’s go back to the good old days before the privatization of our nation’s security began. Let’s put more of our young men and women to work gaining technical knowledge and skills in the military that can help them transition to civilian employment after their enlistments.

Generals and Admirals of our armed forces wouldn’t like it, and the captains of defense industry corporations wouldn’t either. They would undoubtedly lobby Congress with millions of dollars in campaign contributions — most of it going to Republicans. But wouldn’t the rest of us be better off?

Please don’t hesitate to post a comment below to express your own opinion.

Published in: on August 31, 2011 at 9:04 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I agree, in part.

    The obvious fallacy, (not yours) that has now been demonstrated empirically, is that gov’t breeds graft and laziness and that only private industry can be efficient and competitive. It’s like saying only cars are fast and trucks are always slow.

    I believe that an even better balance is achieved by the gov’t competing with private industry. This serves a number of purposes. One is that the gov’t doesn’t lose all internal capability. The second is that they retain the ability to ramp up civilian services as needed. A third is that the gov’t has a natural oversight to part of the industry. As well, it keeps the waist in check, at least until the two learn to act like an oligopoly.

    Never the less, like I’m in a position to know these things, it seems appropriate that each be “thrown a bone”, so to speak. Even if one becomes dominant, the other would be given a few contracts, not the best, but enough for the organization or company to at least survive.

    We do it for the postal service. They have had good years, they have had bad years.

    And, it gives us the opportunity for the military to be a source of education, even equalizing education, for those that are willing to serve.

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