Trimming the Fat: The One Budget We Never Cut

This past week MSNBC published the article “Iraq War Construction: $6 billion to $8 billion Wasted, US Official Says” by Aaron Mehta and Zach Toombs.  This article, unfortunately, didn’t seem to get much attention.  Despite the slightly misleading title of the article, the truly unsettling aspect to this article is that no exact figures have been reached.  That in itself shows a complete lack of oversight into one the greatest expenditures of tax-payer money ever in this country.  The people elected and appointed to watch out for this exact thing were so lax in their job that they can’t even tell us how much was lost.

Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released his findings and they point to a general theme of approving spending without a check for accuracy or efficiency.  In many other cases, approved plans were constantly modified to adjust for increased costs without needing new approval.  Many agencies seem to have spent funds simply to avoid returning them to the Treasury.  All of these factors combined to create a bloated and inaccurate budget.

This is unacceptable behavior for a government that plans to make deep budget cuts in the next few years.  The question as always remains, why are we cutting social programs when rampant misappropriation is going on?  Many people have come to expect this kind of ineptitude from the government so this might not come as shocking news.  The next part of the story might be more so.

SIGIR also found that there is evidence of wide-spread corruption in the form of bid-rigging and bribery.  Officials at both the State Department and the Pentagon were in indicted on evidence brought forth from the report.  The SIGIR report led to 87 indictments.  Considering that the investigators can’t nail down an exact figure to the losses the country has suffered from this waste, it is safe to assume that they didn’t catch every offender profiteering from this war.  The number of indictments handed down imply a system of corruption that has become the norm.  In another blow, it wasn’t just United States’ personnel taking a piece of the pie.

A Kuwaiti logistics company is accused of willfully driving up prices on the supplies they supply to our troops.  The company even continued to fulfill its contract after the accusations surfaced.  The company, Agility, was given a $4.66 billion contract through the United States’ government to get supplies to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The total cost of the contract came to $8.6 billion.  Agility stands accused of using its suppliers to drive up the costs of the contract by encouraging them to use more expensive materials among other minor adjustments that became massive overcharging.  If the accusations are true then this figure is not included in the SIGIR report and raises that figure to almost $10 billion dollars at the low estimate.  Unfortunately, that number is too low an estimate.

According to the BBC UK website, in an article titled “US ‘wasted $30bn on Afghanistan and Iraq’ over decade,” the United States has actually gone on a larger spending spree than the SIGIR report tells us.  In Afghanistan, the United States spent $11.4 billion on facilities that the Afghanistan government claims it can’t sustain once we withdraw.  Apparently, another $300 million went to a power plant that the Afghan government can’t afford to turn on.

Because these expenditures appeared legitimate they are not included in the SIGIR report.  If it wasn’t bad enough that we built facilities that are unusable, the SIGIR report gives the impression that the contracts were most likely manipulated.  There is another piece of information that outstrips both of those in its depth of corruption and its completely unacceptable nature.

On June 22, 2010 Rep. John F. Tierney released a report on the Host Nation Trucking contract in Afghanistan.  The title of that report is “Warlord Inc.” and it lays out a scheme that allowed United States’ funds into the hands of local warlords and criminal leaders.  Like the Agility contract, this was a logistics contract that allowed for the use of mercenaries to protect supply convoys.  The total contract came to $2.16 billion and it came with a catch.

As it turns out, the only mercenaries available were warlords and criminals who had access to weapons, so that is who the United States hired.  When there weren’t warlords available we turned to local strong men and thugs.  The contract, like the Agility contract, charged the United States for unforseen risks.  Many of the reports of violence and casualties remain unverified.   According to the report, the United States made a habit of not verifying these reports before paying the increased cost. The United States’ was charged an increased price for the increased risk to the convoys that we never bothered to verify.

This example deals a double blow, the first is the same as all the other examples.  The United States’ squandered tax-payer money in a time when many people could use that money.  The second is the money was given to the people we supposedly invaded the country to protect it from.  The fact that the United States was mostly likely overcharged for the services it received seems obvious.  Did we really expect to receive top-notch service from known criminals?  Was there really no better option than the one we took?

I don’t want this argument to seem partisan.  I hope it is clear that the myriad of debacles spanned two different administrations, one from each major political party.  The Republican administration might have started down the path, but the Democratic one kept right on strolling.  All of these examples combine to show that the one budget no politician will even talk about cutting hemorrhages funds, at least for the past decade it has.  Combine this with massive banks that formed over the past decade, banks that created the mortgage bubble, municipal bond rigging, and LIBOR rigging, and we have a perfect equation for a recession and a government that is talking about austerity.

This is an issue that goes past partisanship.  The acts of both administrations are negligent at best and willfully harmful at worst.  Again, I would like to argue that before social programs receive cuts for the sake of reducing the deficit the government needs to undergo severe austerity movements on itself.  According to the evidence compiled in these short writings, the country could save hundreds of millions of dollars if we simply paid more attention to what is going on.  Between the GSA scandal, muni-bond scandal, LIBOR scandal, “Warlord Inc.” scandal, the SIGIR report, and the Agility scandal the United States’ has lost untold billions (some even estimate trillions) from corruption and lack of oversight.  I haven’t even written about record-breaking bonuses, failed weapons development projects, or tariffs, subsidies, and taxes.

This country does need change.  A type of change that neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama will bring.  I don’t like to admit it, but I don’t know of the candidate that will.  Tying into my earlier blog about distraction in politics, perhaps if we hold campaigns to a higher standard will we get better candidates.  These are some of the problems that keep us from being great and they aren’t even a part of the discussion.  It is up to us to make these questions important.

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About cartmilln

I am a graduate with a BA in English who has spent the past eight years of my life in one form of retail or another. I am believer in facts and an informed electorate. I don't feel that either side of our political spectrum is "right". Count me among those blindly hopeful who believe that the United States' population is capable of intelligent discourse.
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