The real bloated bureaucracy: The Pentagon

Another day, another astonishing report on Pentagon waste:

U.S. reliance on contractors has grown to “unprecedented proportions,” says the bipartisan commission, established by Congress last year. More than 240,000 private sector employees are supporting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands more work for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

But the government has no central data base of who all these contractors are, what services they provide, and how much they’re paid. The Pentagon has failed to provide enough trained staff to watch over them, creating conditions for waste and corruption, the commission says…

KBR Inc. [until recently a subsidiary of Halliburton, which Dick Cheney was CEO of], the primary LOGCAP contractor in Iraq, has been paid nearly $32 billion since 2001. The commission says billions of dollars of that amount ended up wasted due to poorly defined work orders, inadequate oversight and contractor inefficiencies.

In one example, defense auditors challenged KBR after it billed the government for $100 million in costs for private security even though the contract prohibited the use of for-hire guards.

When politicians and TV hosts rail against “bloated” government bureaucracies, the one agency they don’t want you to think about — the Pentagon — is the one agency that most deserves the title.

I urge you to watch this excellent 3-minute CBS News report on Pentagon waste.

America spends almost as much on our U.S. military as all other nations on Earth spend on their militaries combined! By some accounting methods, U.S. military spending consumes 54% of all federal spending.

What do we get for this incredible sum? We never found Osama bin Laden. We were completely surprised by 9/11. The military’s NORAD — whose sole job is to protect U.S. airspace — totally and inexplicably failed to stop the rogue planes that the FAA detected long before they struck their targets. We attacked, invaded and occupied a nation (Iraq) because its biological and nuclear weapons programs supposedly constituted a grave threat to the United States… yet those weapons programs didn’t exist, something the U.S. military — with its massive intelligence budget, many times larger than the CIA’s — should have known. Even worse, the Pentagon itself, under Douglas Feith, cobbled together totally bogus “evidence” to “justify” attacking Iraq. This totally unnecessary action cost U.S. taxpayers trillions, cost thousands of U.S. soldiers their lives, brought heartache to hundreds of thousands of U.S. military families, diverted America’s attention away from Al Qaeda, led to the deaths of over a million Iraqis, and greatly diminished America in the world’s eyes.

For decades, we’ve read again and again that no one inside the Pentagon can tell us where the money we gave them went. The Pentagon uses literally hundreds of different accounting systems that can’t talk to one another. It’s a very deliberate shell game.

Several years in a row before 9/11 (after which military spending exploded and transparency became even more opaque), the Pentagon’s own auditors' reports showed the Pentagon could not account for OVER A TRILLION DOLLARS A YEAR. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was feeling pressured by those reports, which he acknowledged in a speech on 9/10/2001, the day before 9/11:

Our financial systems are decades old. According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions. We cannot share information from floor to floor in this building because it’s stored on dozens of technological systems that are inaccessible or incompatible…

There’s a myth, sort of a legend, that money enters this building and disappears, like a bright light into a black hole, never to be seen again. In truth, there is a real person at the other end of every dollar, a real person who’s in charge of every domain, and that means that there will be real consequences from, and real resistance to, fundamental change. We will not complete this work in one year, or five years, or even eight years. An institution built with trillions of dollars over decades of time does not turn on a dime. Some say it’s like turning a battleship. I suspect it’s more difficult.

That whole 9/10 speech by Rumsfeld is very strange, esp. coming from a signatory of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC)’s September 2000 report REBUILDING AMERICA’S DEFENSES: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century pleading for greater defense spending while lamenting that “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”

In Rumsfeld’s 9/10/2001 Pentagon speech, he also said:

  • “The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.”

  • “Some might ask, how in the world could the Secretary of Defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people? To them I reply, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

  • “We must develop and build weapons to deter those new threats. We must rebuild our infrastructure, which is in a very serious state of disrepair… All this costs money. It costs more than we have.”

  • “We must free you to take some of the same thoughtful, reasoned risks in the bureaucracy that the men and women in uniform do in battle.”

  • “Some may ask, defensively so, will this war on bureaucracy succeed where others have failed? To that I offer three replies. First is the acknowledgement, indeed this caution: Change is hard. It’s hard for some to bear, and it’s hard for all of us to achieve.”

  • “This effort will succeed because it must. We really have no choice… It’s really about the security of the United States of America. And let there be no mistake, it is a matter of life and death. Our job is defending America… So today we declare war on bureaucracy.”

  • “This effort is structurally different from any that preceded it, I suspect. It begins with the personal endorsement, in fact the mandate, of the President of the United States. President Bush recently released a management agenda that says that performance, not promises, will count. He is personally engaged and aware of the effort that all of you are engaged in. The battle against a stifling bureaucracy is also a personal priority for me.”

  • “There are those who will oppose our every effort… Well, fine, if there’s to be a struggle, so be it… This is not just about money. It’s not about waste. It’s about our responsibility to the men and women in uniform who put their lives at risk. We owe them the best training and the best equipment, and we need the resources to provide that… It’s about professionalism, and it’s also about our respect for ourselves, about how we feel about seeing GAO reports describing waste and mismanagement and money down a rat hole.”

A conspiracy-minded person might think it more than a coincidence that this “matter of life and death” was ignored after 9/11 led to massive Pentagon budget increases and that virtually the only unit in the nearly empty section of the Pentagon struck on 9/11 was full of Pentagon auditors and critical accounting information:

One Army office in the Pentagon lost 34 of its 65 employees in the attack. Most of those killed in the office, called Resource Services Washington, were civilian accountants, bookkeepers and budget analysts. They were at their desks when American Airlines Flight 77 struck.

The Army later said “it didn’t publish a ‘stand-alone’ financial statement for 2001 because of ‘the loss of financial-management personnel sustained during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.’”

Also perishing that day: the Director of the Defense Department’s Programming and Fiscal Economics Division, who died as a passenger on the plane that — ironically — smashed into his workplace:

Bryan C. Jack was responsible for crunching America’s defense budget. He was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, bound for official business in California when his plane struck the Pentagon, where, on any other day, Jack would have been at work at his computer.

Carla Tighe, a fellow Pentagon economist, said Jack was a brilliant mathematician and top budget analyst who translated policy decisions by the defense secretary into hard numbers. Colleagues wondered yesterday how they would fill the personal and professional void.

“He was so mathematically gifted,” Tighe said. “We’re still reeling with how we compensate for what he did.”

Jack, a Texas native who graduated from California Institute of Technology in 1974 and from Stanford Business School, headed the Defense Department’s programming and fiscal economics division. “He was really responsible for overseeing the capital budget… . He added it up and made sure it totaled up to the right number, which is much more complicated than it sounds,” Tighe said.

Posted by James on Monday, June 08, 2009