POLITICS: Daily Round-Up

Would anyone like to guess how many private contractors US taxpayers employ in Iraq? Try to guess and be within, say, 10,000.

The answer? About 190,200.

Think about that for a moment. The US (over-)pays private contractors for 190,200 outsourced jobs that the military has for the most part traditionally done as a sop to “private defense contractors” at a grotesque taxpayer expense–in addition to the roughly 144,000 troops (and 200,000 total military personnel) in Iraq and 30,000 more in the region. To restate, the US has a combined total of approximately 420,000 military, paramilitary, and support personnel in and around Iraq. While less than the totals the US stationed and employed in Vietnam during its war in the late 1960s, this is not only a significant amount, but also sheds considerable light on what is necessary to maintain the US occupation of Iraq. Media attention continually focuses on the number of troops but, when factoring in the support troops, as well as the fact that there are nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are military personnel, this raises serious questions about the number of troops necessary to maintain “peace” in Iraq. 420,000 people in roles, as I will explain below, that are and have been for the most part the domain of the military. Consider this, good readers: if the media reported that there were 420,000 military, paramilitary, and support personnel in and around Iraq a full five years plus after the invasion of Iraq and “Jumpsuit George” Bush declared that the “major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” don’t you think people would question this war, its alleged successes, and the necessity of stationing 420,000 personnel in a country allegedly liberated by a president who campaigned against “nation-building” in the 2000 presidential elections? Instead, Americans are force-fed this phony baloney about troop levels being 1/3 of what the US government actually considers necessary to maintain a very fragile peace in Iraq. Worthy of a post on the media and Iraq, I dare say. Think that this blurry reporting covers over the fact that the US is actually maintaining a military presence rather closer to the levels that the US had in Vietnam at the height of its invasion of South Vietnam? Think that people, seeing 420,000 troops, paramilitary and privatized forces in the region, might be concerned about the possibility of a draft to maintain some semblance of security in the Bush administration’s half-assed nation-building exercise, in addition to the well being of their family and friends continuing to serve multiple lengthy tours in Iraq?

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), of these 190,000 private contractors 38,900 are US citizens, 70,500 are local (Iraqi) nationals, and 81,000 are third-country nationals. [Contractors’ Support of US Operations in Iraq, CBO, August 2008, p. 9] What services do the privatized security forces provide? According to the aforementioned August 2008 CBO report, the roughly $85 billion in privatized contracts ($63 billion for Iraq, $14 billion spent in Kuwait, and $8 billion “in other nearby countries,” [CBO, Contractors’ Support, 2]) spent from 2003-2007 covers a “wide range” of costs such as construction and reconstruction, security details, “operating food service and dining facilities, storing and supplying ammunition, distributing fuel, maintaining equipment, and managing procurement and property” [CBO, Contractors’ Support, 4-5, 12]. Color me traditional, but exactly which of those functions can and has the military not done in the past? Cooking? Stacking and storing munitions and equipment? Supplying fuel? Maintaining military equipment? Doing bookkeeping and inventory? Logistics? Construction? Humanitarian assistance? Security? Performing medical services? These suddenly aren’t military functions, even and especially when done for the military? What a rip off for taxpayers! These privatized contracts are allegedly necessary to help soldiers feed themselves? to help them organize and inventory their own equipment? to maintain and fuel their machinery? to perform humanitarian services? to repair their maimed bodies? Puh-lease.

The importance of security details gets a lot of media attention but, according to the CBO, “[A]s of late 2007, about 40 percent of the approximately 6,700 contractors working for DoS [Department of State] in Iraq were providing security.” [CBO, Contractors’ Support, 8] That’s 2,680 people. Problems exist in tabulating the spending on such privatized contracts. About $19 billion in privatized contracts haven’t been properly categorized because the mechanisms for specific book-keeping for this wide range of allegedly unique yet utterly traditional services hasn’t been developed–more than five years into the war. [CBO, Contractors’ Support, 7]. Additionally, “Counts of contractor personnel in Iraq and nearby countries are only rough approximations. Government agencies indicate that counting contractor personnel in theater is a difficult task. The contracting effort to support operations in Iraq is extensive, involving hundreds of U.S., Iraqi, and international firms employing tens of thousands of people of various nationalities. Contract work is continuously awarded and completed as requirements dictate; numbers, nationalities, and functions of contractor personnel fluctuate over time. In addition, prime contractors may subcontract portions of their contract to other firms. Subcontracting may run several tiers deep, further decentralizing administration of the workforce and reducing the likelihood of an accurate tally of all contractor personnel.”

That is, the level of graft from such internal and external subcontracting to maximize the largess that American taxpayers (in my view needlessly) fund requires multiple layers of subterfuge to sufficiently blur the degree of pilfering that contractors–who are paid (in grossly inflated cost-plus contracts) by yet somehow unaccountable to the US federal government. But the CBO report, which is quite evenhanded and on the whole well done, glosses over the over-payments US taxpayers are clearly making by stating that the cost-plus greed factored in for military contractors in good part accounts for the difference in costs between military personnel and privatized and often paramilitary personnel performing similar functions, to the tune of $10.3 million dollars. To what can we attribute the alleged justification for such overpayment of outsourced services? The CBO itself phrases it well: “The billing rate is greater than an employee’s pay because it includes the contractor’s indirect costs, overhead, and profit. A better comparison would involve estimating a soldier’s “billing rate”—the total cost to the government of having a soldier fill a deployed security position for one year. Further, contractors generally bid various numbers of personnel in different labor categories, so focusing on a single labor category—such as the security guards—gives an incomplete picture of the total cost of providing security. A better comparison would also reflect all types of personnel as well as nonlabor costs (such as vehicles and other equipment) that a security contractor includes in its bid.” [CBO, Contractors’ Support, 14] That is, the profit rate for what would normally be soldiers’ work has been factored into the naked, shameful profiteering for the war that is presumed, from the start, to be necessary to the war effort. And opponents of the war who want their loved ones returned home safe and sound are called “un-American.” Amazing.

Anyone who thinks this is not outright theft, naked graft, needs to read Matt Taibbi’s brilliant piece in Rolling Stone. Hunter S. Thompson was the brilliant pioneer of the self-styled genre “gonzo journalism.” Yet the late great HST, in my humble opinion, couldn’t hold a candle to Taibbi, a flat-out hands-on powerhouse of a journalist who masterfully blends technical data, expertise, and cogent analysis with humor and the all-spice of profanity. As a historian, I have my own questions about some of the anecdotal pieces of information Tiabbi utilizes. However, for the most part Taibbi’s piece is a searing indictment of the blatant thievery that is the contractor system poaching “services,” nay, American taxes and the state, in Iraq. Contractor unaccountability, Bush administration interference into allegations of contractor malfeasance, political and ideological patronage to people unequipped for the job of reconstruction, graft, no services for hundreds of millions wasted, billions in cash literally lost, profligate and indifferent waste of taxpayer funded goods, dangerous threats of retaliation against potential whistle-blowers, shirking contractual and human responsibilities from the contractors, and more. Anyone who reads Taibbi’s piece yet can continue to accept the Bush administration’s platitudinous precepts of the war, who can blithely maintain its rationale, alleged righteousness, and the system of taxpayer-funded largess is utterly hopeless.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 3:05 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. reading that leaves me shaking with rage

    ( a favorite phrase of a friend of mine)

  2. I don’t exactly reject the idea of trying new things but is this really the time to fully experiement with the line-up? I won’t argue with results but all suddenly the Yankees decide to steal everytime they get on base. If Mariano blows this tie he’s officialy cursed.

  3. You have to be kiddin’ me right Charlie?

  4. I’m going to read this political round up.

  5. Jason, before I read this, let me tell you a site, you HAVE to go to. They even allow you to leave your website signature. They are so deep into politics and talk about some major stuff that I have no clue what they are talking about most of the time. Please go here….


    I did a google search one day for the biggest political message board and that is what came up. You won’t be disappointed.

  6. Jason, I don’t know much about the topic you are talking about so I couldn’t understand. Still, you could post this whole article you made at the site I showed you and you’d get a lot of responses.

  7. We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.MargaretAtwoodMargaret Atwood

  8. Margaret Atwood?

    i love her novels…

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