Military & Veterans

Webb Puts Troops Ahead of Profits

September 4, 2011
Roanoke Times Editorial

Hiring private contractors to vet applicants for other military contracts invites abuse

Members of Congress like to rail against government waste, fraud and corruption but they rarely offer specifics, perhaps fearing that the misdeeds will surface too close to home. U.S. Sen. Jim Webb doesn’t just talk about problems. He helped to establish a commission that this week identified at least $30 billion in misspent tax dollars and outright fraud over the past decade. The price tag may well be twice that amount.

It will shock no one to learn that the waste is caused by lax oversight of military contracts with companies that provide everything from laundry services to private security armies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Wartime Contracting Commission reveals that private defense contractors are even hired to help vet other firms competing for lucrative assignments, and to manage those contracts once they are awarded. The potential for conflicts of interest is real. Some of the companies involved are familiar in Virginia. Employees with Arlington-based CACI International administered contracts for military support services even though the firm also had permission from the Pentagon to bid on military contracts.

McLean-based Science Applications International Corp. was awarded a $285.5 million contract in 2009 to maintain the Army’s mine-resistant vehicles, but the inspector general for the Defense Department objected that company workers were allowed to discipline government workers and to help prepare contract specifications for work that the company bid on and won.

These companies and other contractors did not start the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the conflicts offered them irresistible business opportunities. The United States plunged headlong into two wars with the naive expectation that our troops would soon be home. The troops are still there, but at times they have been outnumbered by a private contractor workforce. U.S. reliance on private firms has reduced the number of America’s military sons and daughters stationed in the Middle East, but it has also poured millions of dollars into the pockets of profiteers while leaving enlisted soldiers with inadequate safety gear.

The commission’s solution is as obvious as the problem itself. The panel recommends an inspector general specifically tasked with oversight of war-zone contracts. The commission also advises military leaders reduce dependence on private security companies.

Those are logical and beneficial proposals that should not have required a congressional study, but few members of Congress are willing to stand up to private companies that bring jobs and tax revenues to their states. Fortunately, Webb is putting the interests of American troops first.