Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Richard Lardner reports that the Bush administration is rejecting a proposal to reform military contracting, which has been plagued for decades by waste, political expediency and outright corruption.

The Office of Management and Budget, President Bush’s administrative arm, has shot down a service plan to add five active-duty generals who would oversee purchasing and monitor contractor performance.

The boost in brass was a key recommendation from a blue-ribbon panel that last fall criticized the Army for contracting failures that undermined the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, wasted U.S. tax dollars, and sparked dozens of procurement fraud investigations.

Without having top brass overseeing the procurement process, there’s no leverage behind demands that the system be cleaned up:

As the Army’s contracting budget ballooned _ from $46 billion in 2002 to $112 billion in 2007 _ it had too few experienced people negotiating and buying equipment and supplies, according to the panel. Worse still, there wasn’t a single Army general in a job with contracting responsibilities. That meant the profession had little clout at a critical time.

Senior officers are needed to make sure past mistakes are not repeated, said the panel, chaired by former Pentagon acquisition chief Jacques Gansler.

“If a contracting person has to say to a general that they have to follow the rules, it’s easier if you have your own general who will back you up,” says David Berteau, a panel member and a former Defense Department official.

The problems with military contracting are so ubiquitous that they’ve become the stuff of legend ($1200 toilet seats, etc). We’ve had company after company defraud the government, many of them being fined millions of dollars for it (including Haliburton). We’ve had Congress fund weapons systems that the Pentagon says they neither want nor need because the system is built in the state of a powerful senator who wants to keep the gravy train of campaign donations flowing. We’ve had no-bid contracts that led to massive corruption.

The system needs to be fixed badly. Why is the White House blocking these reforms? Might it have something to do with Dick Cheney, whose former (and future) company has benefited from tens of billions of dollars in government contracts (all while committing fraud on many of those contracts, not to mention violating sanctions against at least two nations that support terrorism)? I think it just might have.