Friday, March 13, 2009

President Obama, Can we help?

On 4 March President Obama signed a memo titled, “Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies” in which he charged the OMB and many others to review their contracting rules and policies and to clean their acts up. The major subject of the memo is saving the taxpayers’ money – an estimated $40B.
He says specifically, “The Federal Government has an overriding obligation to American taxpayers. It should perform its functions efficiently and effectively while insuring that its actions result in the best value for the taxpayers.”
Now if you just read the summary paragraphs, you would be pleased to note that the major theme of the memo is that no-bid contracts are bad, and proper competition is good. No argument at all.
Of course, very few of us read entire government documents anymore, and we certainly don’t go off and read all of the citations in those memos. I’m going to do that for all of us here in this editorial, because for us it really makes a difference. [Sorry this will make this editorial a little long.]
Buried in the memo is a charge that should interest all of us veterans and serving military very much more than just saving money. Way down in the memo he says “Government outsourcing for services also raises special concerns.”
Even further down the memo cites OMB Circular A-76, “Performance of Commercial Activities”, and says [emphasis added]:
“…[the circular] was based on the reasonable premise that while inherently government activities should be performed by Government employees, taxpayers may receive more value for their dollars if non-inherently government activities that can be provided commercially are subject to the forces of competition.”
Somewhere along the line, the “more value for their dollars” comment overtook the importance of “inherently government activities,” and trouble and mischief rushed in.
Many of us old soldiers have had “special concerns” about “government outsourcing” for a long time, and particularly for those actions that are defined as “inherently government activities”.
Again, deep in the OMB Circular it says:
“5. Policy. It is the policy of the United States Government to: …b. Retain Governmental Functions In-House. Certain functions are inherently Governmental in nature, being so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance only by Federal employees. These functions are not in competition with the commercial sector. Therefore these functions shall be performed by Government employees.
The Circular says under “Definitions”:
“e. An inherently Governmental function is a function which is so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by Government employees.” …“these functions include those activities which require either the exercise of discretion in applying Government authority or the use of value judgment in making decisions for the Government.”
The principal class of these acts is defined as:
“(1) The act of governing; i.e., the discretionary exercise of Government authority.” Among the examples are,
• “management of Government programs requiring value judgments, as in direction of the national defense”;
• “management and direction of the Armed Services”;
• “activities performed exclusively by military personnel who are subject to deployment in a combat, combat support or combat service support role”;
• “direction of intelligence and counter-intelligence operations.”
Towards the end of the memo he says [emphasis added]:
“I further direct the Director of the OMB, in collaboration with the aforementioned officials and councils, and with input from the publicto develop and issue by September 30, 2009, Government-wide guidance to: … (4) clarify when governmental outsourcing for services is and is not appropriate, consistent with section 321 of Public Law 110-417.”
PL 110-417 is the FY 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. Now that particular section of the Public Law charges the OMB with performing a “Comprehensive Analysis And Development Of Single Government-Wide Definition Of Inherently Governmental Function And Criteria For Critical Functions.”, the title of the section.
The first task the Congress and the President have given to the OMB is to:
“review the definitions of the term ‘‘inherently governmental function’’ … to determine whether such definitions are sufficiently focused to ensure that only officers or employees of the Federal Government or members of the Armed Forces perform inherently governmental functions or other critical functions necessary for the mission of a Federal department or agency [emphasis added].
Congress and the president also charge the OMB to:
“develop criteria to be used by the head of each such department or agency to—
(B) identify each position within that department or agency that, while the position may not exercise an inherently governmental function, nevertheless should only be performed by officers or employees of the Federal Government or members of the Armed Forces to ensure the department or agency maintains control of its mission and operations;”
All of these documents cite “Title 31 501 Note” as a reference. If we dig out that note in the US Code we find the current definition of “inherently governmental function”, which is:
The term ‘inherently governmental function’ means a function that is so intimately related to the public interest as to require performance by Federal Government employees.
“Functions included.—The term includes activities that require either the exercise of discretion in applying Federal Government authority or the making of value judgments in making decisions for the Federal Government, including judgments relating to monetary transactions and entitlements. An inherently governmental function involves, among other things, the interpretation and execution of the laws of the United States so as—
“(i) to bind the United States to take or not to take some action by contract, policy, regulation, authorization, order, or otherwise;
“(ii) to determine, protect, and advance United States economic, political, territorial, property, or other interests by military or diplomatic action, civil or criminal judicial proceedings, contract management, or otherwise;
“(iii) to significantly affect the life, liberty, or property of private persons;
“(iv) to commission, appoint, direct, or control officers or employees of the United States; or
“(v) to exert ultimate control over the acquisition, use, or disposition of the property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, of the United States, including the collection, control, or disbursement of appropriated and other Federal funds.
Well, President Obama, consider all that follows “input from the public”. Perhaps more importantly, consider it as input from those who care deeply about outsourcing of military jobs and who have “been there and done that.”
Now you might expect that this was going to lead up to some diatribe against Blackwater (now “Xe”, whatever that is) or KBR (somehow no longer Halliburton, but who knows?) – far from it. Those contractors are merely manifestations of a larger and more fundamental problem,
There was some “outsourcing” in the past – Brown & Root and others like them performed a number of base support functions in Vietnam and elsewhere.
Nonetheless, if you performed an act that “advanced United States interests by diplomatic or military action” you were an employee – sometimes a draftee – of the United States. How can it ever be otherwise?
The broad dependency on “outsourcing” that has occurred since the demise of the draft in 1973 has masked a policy that can be stated as, “a lack of commitment by the US public to a military cause can always be overcome by money placed in the hands of for-profit corporations.”
This policy alone has changed the nature of US foreign and defense policy, and has completely changed the nature of military service.
We can’t get enough direct budget to increase the size of the military services to perform those services called out by the policy delineated in the OMB Circular – combat (infantry, ground and naval artillery, armor, fighters and bombers), combat support (engineers, intelligence, chemical, communications), and combat service support (MPs, supply, transportation, maintenance, legal, medical, administration).
If we had the budget, we couldn’t get enough volunteers to man the force.
So we substitute money for citizen service, and profit for patriotism.
Most of us who have been in combat know that there is no place there for non-combatants. Not only is it a very dangerous place for anyone, but everyone who is there needs to be under a single set of rules, and a unified command. Non-combatants aren’t constrained in that way so they are loose entities that confuse the combat situation beyond its already inherent complications.
Most of us who have been there also know that combat involves both mortal and moral choices that can only be counted on if they arise from a body of public servants who are under oath to support a national cause that goes beyond the exigencies of the immediate combat at hand. “Duty, Honor, Country” really does mean something, and it cannot be bought.
The service member who is riding shotgun for a contracted driver becomes subject to the “tactical” decisions of the driver.
The military patrol that proceeds into an area that has just been shot up by contract “security personnel” is subject to the revenge assault that is triggered by the arbitrary use of force by the contractors.
The airman or the sailor who needs immediate maintenance or ordnance support is dependent upon the “cost-effectiveness” and “profit-margin” decisions of someone who has no responsibility for the success of the mission.
The mission of the United States, whatever it is, must compete in the public eye with the mission goals that are perceived as a result of the actions of contractors over which the Government has only a contractual relationship, not a moral relationship cemented by an oath of service.
The nature of oath-bound service also changes when contractors perform those duties that all soldiers once performed for ourselves.
We didn’t just fight together, we fed each other, we helped each other repair our equipment, we shared scarce supplies, we provided other services to each other such as laundry and showers, we watched each other’s back, we even entertained each other – all in the same uniform, all under the same oath, all committed to the same national cause.
We became something that those bound only by contracts can never be– we became a “Band of Brothers and Sisters”, not just someone who was hired to do a dangerous or an inconvenient job.
So, President Obama, here is some “public input”.
If you want to fight a war, or if you must, then go all in. Wars are fought by nations, not by contracts.
Get contractors out of the combat zone. Yes, I know, that means that you’ll have to bring back KP, but getting out of KP was one of the great victories of making E-4 and a real morale booster;
besides, they still pull it on ships at sea. Also, even though they might not join for other reasons, including the competition of contractor salaries, no one will stop joining just because they have to pull KP.
While you are at it, let’s get contractors out of the VA also. Taking care of returning soldiers is also an “inherently government function”.
Without the contactors you will have to increase the force to do all those jobs that contractors are doing now, but you will be doing it with people who are under oath (and who get paid less anyway). They have to follow your orders or they will suffer for it; they are sworn to do so, and they don’t demand that each act they take generates a profit.
Contractors aren’t soldiers and soldiers aren’t contractors. Always remember the difference!
If you can’t expand the force because of the political burden of such a decision, then the people and their representatives aren’t behind you and the war isn’t important enough to fight anyway.
If a war must be fought, bring back the draft and use those whom you enlist and conscript to do the nation’s business. If you can’t bring back the draft, then the war isn’t worth fighting.
Most wars aren’t.
[Sandy Cook: Ed.]

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