I was flabbergasted when the Congressional Research Service reported on May 17 that the Pentagon didn’t have a clue what the 108,000 contractors the Department of Defense (DOD) has in Afghanistan were actually doing–let alone how well they were doing it.
Fortunately, my Uncle Jimmy, who works at the Pentagon, was in for the weekend, and I got a chance to ask him about it.
“Jimmy,” I said, “is this true? You guys don’t really have any idea what these people are doing?”
He laughed. “Take it easy, Ace,” he said. “You know how you media guys blow things out of proportion.”
I felt better already. “Great. Could you put it in proportion for me?” I glanced at my notes. “According to the report, DOD spent $160 billion with contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq these past six years. That seems like a lot of money to go unaccounted for.”
“Not a bit,” he scoffed. “We actually save money by eliminating oversight. We have over 40,000 more contracted employees in the country than we do troops! Do you know how many people it would take to actually keep track of over 100,000 contract employees and monitor their work?”
“Gee, I don’t know,” I said. “A thousand?”
“Guess again,” he said. “More like ten to sixteen thousand. So we’ve saved, off the top of my head, somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 to $20 billion by eliminating supervision.”
“That’s a high-priced neighborhood,” I joked. “But I’d think you’d be worried about theft and corruption and inefficiency and work going undone and people goofing off. Things like that.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said, shocked. “Ace, these are U.S. defense contractors you’re talking about. They’re the biggest and the best. If you can’t trust KBR, DynCorp, Fluor, Washington Group International, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and corporations like that to give you an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, who can you trust?”
I was silent for a minute, and he looked at me. “I know that look, Ace. You’re actually thinking. What is it?” he asked.
“I was thinking about ‘corporate welfare,’ and just remembering those news stories back in the 70s when Ronald Reagan and Reader’s Digest hammered the welfare system and ‘welfare queens’” I told him. “Cities and states have kept an eagle eye out for welfare fraud ever since. You see governments zeroing in on welfare clients all the time. Charlottesville cracked down on more than a dozen in April for taking money they allegedly weren’t entitled to. Most of them were charged with siphoning off a thousand to four thousand dollars.”
“Defrauding the system. That’s outrageous, isn’t it?” said Jimmy. “But what’s your point? I don’t see any connection. We’re talking about a whole different class of people here.”