Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Motivation: The Bottom Line

Life is so uncertain
Except for Halliburton
With top notch contacts
And cost-plus contracts
Where losing pays better than winning
And CEOs keep grinning

T. Christian Miller wrote an insightful article on the 4th of July that outlines a major obstacle for leaving Iraq. Miller, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, obtained recent data through the Freedom of Information Act that demonstrates that our outsourcing policies have resulted in the build up of contractor numbers “fighting” the war to the point where contractors exceed the military. Those of you with good memories recall that I have written about this in prior essays that covered outsourcing and the panoply of costs that include dollars, control of human resources, corporatism, corruption and the myth that Congress controls the purse strings.
According to Miller, the US Military has contracted for about 130,000 that support the military directly and approximately 53,000 for the Agency for International Development (USAID). The State Department has likely hired a few thousand and is unable or unwilling to break down the numbers. For those of you who might think that this policy is a good thing, let me review the hazards. First, in the area of command and control, the contract is not an effective instrument to provide immediate response or ultimate responsibility. If KBR does not want to deliver food or munitions to the troops corporations, a contract review or lawsuit is not a good way to get the stuff where it is needed when it is needed. If Blackwater commits an illegal act such as murder in support of operations (even as some unnamed contractor may have at Abu Ghraib), there is no system of accountability. Worse yet, the cost-plus contract virtually ensures that you will pay the highest price possible so that even from the standpoint of cost effectiveness, the joke is on the taxpayer. By the way, we exempt these corporations from most taxes for earnings in Iraq, so there is not even the redemption value for the bottles after the corporations have drunk the money down. Robert Greenwald's documentary, "Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers" illustrated how contractors burned trucks with flat tires and replaced the trucks rather than the tires to maximize profits. As a guess, I would suggest that it would take less time to retrieve a truck and replace a tire than replace a truck, but why worry when there is a war on? Most nations would find that unacceptable. We call it “supporting the troops.” As recent reports and investigations suggest, we not only have paid too much, but we have gotten too little in return. The Parsons Project (forgive me, record artists) resulted in Iraqi police barracks that were uninhabitable and worse, were a health hazard due to plumbing that leaked onto living areas. That Parsons firm (Pasadena) has not given back the millions it received, and the job had to be redone completely after the barracks had to be destroyed. I suggest that the Corps of Engineers would have done a better job with uniformed soldiers rather than a contract.
I trust that Miller wrote the truth and did so in a way that is not attempting to deceive us. The administration, on the other hand, has continued to justify the augmentation and replacement of uniformed soldiers and has implied that it is cheaper and more effective when clearly, it has been more expensive and less effective than advertised. I mention all this, incidentally, because there has been such a focus on numbers. Recall that Secretary Rumsfeld said that we had enough troops. If we did, then why hire all these contractors? Could Rummy be part of the “corporate outsourcing” or was he not telling us the truth? The outcome will not change with the answer, but I am curious, aren’t you? More about lies in a moment, but first I want to get to the core problem for fighting the war in Iraq with contractors. They are less visible than the military and we all know how hard the administration has been working to hide the coffins of our brave military. That provides the administration with an active shroud of ignorance that takes a lot of work to penetrate. More important, there is no reason for contractors to blow up the gravy train. What right thinking CEO would countenance ending the war and cost-plus contracts? “I have a responsibility to my stockholders, and reducing our support is unthinkable!” “Management bonuses are pretty good, too.”
There is no motivation to end the war by the corporations contributing the greatest numbers and making the most money. Remember that when you listen to all the rhetoric about the money we save by outsourcing. The money is a myth but the blood is real.
Re: using truth in very small pieces: Alberto VO 5 used to be well known in hair products, but it now relates to Veritas Obscurata by the Attorney General at 5 or so hearings. Alberto may not be not lying, but parsing the truth. The FBI Director has contradicted the AG except in the eyes of Tony Snow who is the Tooth Fairy Princess urging us to suspend disbelief. Yes, truth has become stranger than fiction.
George Giacoppe
29 July 2007