Government Accountability & Balance of Powers

Waste, Fraud, Abuse: Betraying the Troops

September 8, 2011
by Times-Dispatch Staff, The Richmond Times-Dispatch

The United States increasingly relies on contractors to do the work associated with military interventions. The trend is regrettable. The government itself ought to bear the burden, primarily through the Departments of State and Defense and other relevant agencies. Contracting widens openings to unhappy consequences as well.

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb long has promoted transparency and accountability in this area. He played an instrumental role in the creation of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which recently released its report. Webb has pledged to promote its recommendations.

The investigation documented about $32 billion in waste and fraud in the two theaters of war. A statement in a summary of the effort proves especially troubling:

“The commission report notes that [as] a consequence in the 1990s federal acquisition workforce and in support units within the military, the United States cannot conduct large or sustained contingency operations without heavy support from contractors. ‘Contingency’ operations, as defined in federal law for the Department of Defense, are those involving military forces in actual or imminent hostilities, or in response to declared national emergencies. Civilian agencies use a similar definition.”

This situation should not exist, but given the nation’s reluctance to pay its bills, even those regarding national security, interventions will continue to rely on contracting. An implicit privatization of foreign policy is not to be cheered. At least the government can strive to minimize financial losses as well as defective performance,

Proposals for improved delivery of contracted services include greater oversight, greater competition for bids and more thorough assessments. The question is crucial. Fraud and mismanagement along the front lines betray the troops who risk their lives on behalf of their country. As a decorated veteran and as someone who has served in the military bureaucracy, Webb understands. The campaign to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan commands bipartisan attention. This rates as Webb’s finest hour as a senator.