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A Victory for Transparency

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Well, maybe not. Regarding the search for the responsible party in the “bad ammo to Afghanistan” scandal, Laura Peterson writes:

The public may never really know, if a recent Government Accountability Office report is any indication. The GAO found that 42 percent of the workforce at the Army’s Contracting Center for Excellence, a division of the Army Contracting Agency, were contractors themselves. In addition to the obvious conflict of interest problems this raises, GAO said that contractors “were not always identified as such to the public and in some cases were named on documents as the government’s point of contact.”

Most of the CCE contractors were employed by CACI International, an Arlington-based firm that helped prepare contracting documents such as modifications and statements of work [and provided interrogators to Abu Ghraib]. CACI International also holds a 20-year, $36 billion contract for logistics support with the Army Sustainment Command (ASC) at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, which awarded the munitions contract to AEY Inc., the youthful arms dealer’s company. ASC was created in 2006 to handle contracts for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan after a series of scandals exposed the lack of oversight that plagued the Army’s Kuwait procurement office. Though ASC hasn’t yet responded to requests for the public/private breakdown of its contracting staff, it’s clear ASC looks to the private sector quite a bit for projects such as the Deployable Civilian Contracting Cadre it launched last year to monitor reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So even when the AEY contract is made public (a search of the Federal Procurement Data System displays every AEY contract except that one), it’s impossible to be sure that the contracting officer listed is in fact responsible for hiring and monitoring a company that reportedly drove soldiers in Afghanistan crazy with late, low-quality weaponry—and probably broke DoD procurement law in the process.

When thinking about who’s at fault in a situation like this, it’s important to note (with a nod to our Naderite remnant) that it’s not just Republicans. Certainly scams like this develop during any war, and the oversight that the Bush administration has provided for this kind of procurement is pretty minimal. Nevertheless, much of the procurement system we now have in place was developed in the 1990s as part of the larger “reinventing government” project; the intention was to ensure efficiency by turning responsibilities over to “market tested” private firms. What we got were things like the Lead System Integrator, in which a big private firm manages procurement across an entire program, like Future Combat Systems or Coast Guard’s Deepwater or the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship. The services and the Pentagon, at the same time, shed their acquisition and oversight capabilities.

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen cost overruns and delays that are impressive even for defense acquisition project. Combine that with a poorly thought out war that would have strained any system, and the results, sadly, have been predictable.

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