Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolved: We won't get fooled again

The armed forces have fleeced the taxpayers for decades via confidence games like cost-plus and no-bid contracts. This is so egregious and the secret is so open that, for example, the navy even incorporates a 'confidence level'--that is, a percentage--that admits they have some, little, or no clue whether their projected costs for a weapon or any other item will be met--and if they do have a clue, they are not telling us.
This corrupt system rewards sloppy work and careless bidding by passing off all costs associated with either to the taxpayer. When I was in the carpenters union in Minneapolis a few decades ago as a young man, I was taught bidding and it was hammered home that a bid is a bid, not an estimate. If you submit a bid, and then sign a contract to deliver on that bid, you ate any cost overruns. Bidding was regarded as a serious science, as honest competition, not a game to entice an investor into a rat hole money suck. Too bad the American taxpayers aren't granted the same honest policies. When the newest class of gargantuan aircraft carriers is considered, for instance, the confidence level is officially 40 percent, meaning that there is a 60 percent chance the navy's projected figures are low--and that is by the navy's own reckoning. My challenge to the navy would be, show us a list of projects that have come in at projected price. Chances are the real world confidence numbers would be less than five percent. And many of the projects are so far off that costs can double, triple, or even worse, revealing the extreme scam of the entire process.

But even more basic is the need for all these weapons in the first place, something any politician or even Secretary of Defense notes at his or her peril. Walter Pincus has been writing about the military forever in The Washington Post--in the 1970s and 80s we used his investigative reporting to bolster our case to shut down a navy nuclear command facility (which we did)--and he notes this threat to common sense:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates touched that third rail in May 2010 when he told a Navy audience that although the plan was to use 11 carrier strike groups through 2040, the service should “consider the massive over-match the U.S. already enjoys.” He then asked: “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one? Any future plans must address these realities.”
Gates was instantly attacked and condemned by politicians and navy brass for his stumble toward honesty. The realities to which he referred are firmly rejected by the conflict industry--the elite class of those who profit from war or war preparation. The contractors don't have to launch the attack directly; they have underwritten the campaigns of the congressional members who, they know, will take up that cudgel.

Meanwhile, a look through a typical day's Pentagon contracts--here is a list of those for 29 December 2011--gives a glimmer to many related problems.
  • The daily hemorrhage of the money taken directly from your paycheck is simply gushing. Contracts start at more than $100 million and go on and on from there. This is money committed sometimes well into the future, burdening us all for a long time.
  • Many of the contracts are add-ons to so-called fixed-price bids approved in the past. They are another form of corruption, another path to cost-plus uncontrolled spending, and they are not put out to open bidding, but simply awarded to the original contractor with a giant Approved As Usual rubber stamp.
  • The war system is so elaborate and has its tentacles around so many pieces on the board--corporate media, electoral politics, university research, local economies--that you can see its pervasive grip in the intentional diversity of its contracting locales, even including my 'peace' town, Portland, Oregon. This is how they guarantee their votes. What member of Congress will vote against the DoD budget and risk howling outrage over "lost" $millions in fed spending in the district? When you have a budget of $1 trillion it's easy to make sure than all 435 congressional districts are milking that one. Sure, many districts ring up massive net losses (tax money sent in to the Pentagon v tax money spent by the Pentagon in the district), but that doesn't quiet the special interests who are pocketing the porcine profits of death.
To help us understand all these numbers and trade-offs, the National "Yes--We're Wonks" Priorities Project creates tools and charts, the basic one being the discretionary budget 'pie' (see above). Yes, NPP is 'over-matched' by the Pentagon propaganda machine, but they hold their own with far fewer resources. They are one of the best of our ground-truthing organizations.

It is time to clean house. The war profiteers have learned how to game us. They are the engine and we are the fuel. This is wrong. The ship of state should not be an aircraft carrier. We have other ways to relate to the people of planet Earth and 2012 should be the year we advance the latter and scuttle the former.

No comments: