Wednesday, October 13, 2004

RoboCop at the Pentagon?

I spent 16 years working for AFSCME, the union representing state, county and municipal employees. Throughout that time, and beyond that time opposition to privatization of government functions was a major focus of countless studies, publications, conferences and op-eds.

Personally, I always thought that the best public relations vehicle opposing privatization was the 1987 movie RoboCop where the Detroit police force is turned over to a private corporation which, not unlike many real life beneficiaries of taxpayer dollars, abuses its privilege.

RoboCop, overlaid with Haliburton nighmares immediately came to mind when I read the last article in the Newsday series: Close ties at the Pentagon: The power, influence and bottomline of defense contractors has grown during the Bush presidency.

The article discusses the growing tendency of the Pentagon to contract out management of huge military systems. The concept is not new, of course:
Close ties between the Pentagon and defense contractors have existed in many previous administrations, Republican and Democrat.

But under the Bush administration contractors themselves increasingly are administering defense programs, including selecting subcontractors, and are venturing into areas that traditionally have been military functions -- from guarding military bases to interrogating war prisoners to analyzing battlefield intelligence.

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a conservative national security think tank, said the Pentagon trend of outsourcing traditional management functions "is mainly a product of Republican political philosophy,"though it started modestly under President Bill Clinton.

Yet putting private contractors in charge of Pentagon management, critics say, has the potential of creating conflicts of interest and limiting competition, damaging to both the taxpayers and to the men in uniform.
The Pentagon has now contracted out to Boeing one of the costliest programs in the history of the U.S. military, the enormously complicated Future Combat System, a project to equip the next decade's Army with a new fleet of satellite-linked manned and unmanned ground and air vehicles. It’s huge. It’s incredibly complex. But somehow, this is not reassuring:

Boeing official Jack Paul says contracting the management of the project to the company and its junior partner, Science Applications International Corp., makes sense because the Army does not have the expertise to develop such a complex program.

"It's a very large, complicated, challenging program, and when you start to go into integration, the Army has not traditionally been organized to do that," said Paul. The shift of responsibility from the military to the private sector is taking place under a Pentagon leadership dominated by former executives of large companies. According to a Newsday analysis, nearly half, or 44 percent of Bush's Pentagon appointees requiring Senate confirmation were company executives, business consultants or lobbyists, compared with 23 percent in the Clinton administration.

For his first service secretaries Clinton chose a defense industry executive, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and an investment banker. Bush, selected executives from defense giants Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics and from the scandal-plagued energy company, Enron.

Last month Bush named Francis J. Harvey, vice chairman of federal contractor Duratek Inc., to be his new Army secretary. Harvey has spent his entire business career as an executive of three major federal contractors and has served on the boards of three companies controlled by the Carlyle Group, a private investment firm with large defense industry holdings and close ties to the Bush family.
Between companies like Boeing being given full responsibility for massive new weapons systems, Haliburton running the logistics during wartime (unimpressively, to judge by news accounts), and mercinaries taking care of security when we don't provide enough troups for the wars we get ourselves into, one wonders what's next....