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Annals of Outrage II | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Annals of Outrage II

In January, I wrote my first Annals of Outrage weblog about the waste, fraud and abuse that the Bush Administration has perpetrated against the US taxpayer. But so much has happened in just the last three months--a cornucopia of corruption stemming, in large part, from the war in Iraq and the growing scandal that is Rumsfeld's Department of Defense--that I felt the time had arrived to do another top ten list of the most serious GAO and Inspector Generals' (IG) reports that have recently become available. It's a bracing series of studies, revealing the ever-widening scandals in this post-9-11, say-and-do-anything political environment. Happy Reading.

1) Halliburton Redux: The revelations seem to never stop when it comes to the Defense Department's favorite corporate client, Halliburton. In April, Henry Waxman released summaries of five reports in which the Defense Contract Audit Agency cited as questionable $212 million that Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root spent in Iraq under a no-bid contract. The money given to Halliburton by Defense was part of a $1.69 billion no-bid contract awarded the company. The auditors told the Army that it should withhold some of Halliburton's money. The Army refused. Halliburton continues to do its work and make millions in Iraq.

2) Democracy in the Middle East: Iraq is a "free-fraud zone." That's the description that a bravewhistleblower Frank Willis--who had served as a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq--called Iraq a few weeks ago. It's hard to know where to begin. The scope of the corruption beyond Halliburton is so widespread and endemic that multiple investigations by the government and non-governmental organizations are underway to see how much the fraud, waste and abuse have cost the US taxpayer. One corruption watchdog organization, Transparency International, reported in March that the US had completely mismanaged Iraq's oil revenues, used "faulty procedures for awarding reconstruction contracts," and that we were now potentially facing "the biggest corruption scandal in history."

In addition to all of the problems associated with Halliburton, our reconstruction efforts have also come under fire from IGs and the GAO because US officials failed to provide the proper training and oversight for private security firms doing contract work in Iraq. CACI International Inc., for instance, had an essentially free hand to conduct interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison. The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction Stuart Bowen reported as well that US officials have been unable to account for how nearly $100 million slated for Iraqi reconstruction projects had been spent. The IG is now investigating whether anyone in the US-led Development Fund for Iraq committed outright fraud.

3) Bagram Out-of-Control: According to reports written by the Army Criminal Investigation Command that Human Rights Watch obtained last month, the US military committed some of its worst prisoner abuses in Afghanistan. The reports reveal in new, horrifying details the extent to which American soldiers abused Afghan prisoners so severely that two detainees died at the Bagram Control Point where the military was holding them. ("The deaths took place nearly a year before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq," the New York Times reported.)

4) DOD's Fraud: In January, the GAO faulted the Department of Defense as the most-fraud prone agency within the federal government. David Walker, the Comptroller General of the GAO, said that DOD's repeated failures to curb waste and other abuses "results in billion of dollars in waste each year and inadequate accountability to the Congress and the American taxpayer." The DOD is asleep at the wheel in such areas as mismanaging finances and contracts, giving personnel security clearances, mismanaging military bases and failing to modernize its computer systems. A Defense Department spokeswoman responded to the GAO's findings by saying that "it's a little bit premature at this time for us to have a full response."

5) DOD's Fraud, Part 2: Nowhere, perhaps, has the DOD run into more trouble than in its lax procurement procedures. Boeing has been at the center of this storm. Former Defense Department official and Boeing executive Darleen Druyun went to jail because she did favors for Boeing while working in the procurement office of the Defense Department--and then got a plum job with Boeing as a reward. The government has launched a whopping 48 investigations because of the Druyun scandal, and the Druyun controversy also gave birth to the Procurement Fraud Working Group, a federal task force that investigates procurement fraud in the federal government. With John McCain and other members of Congress criticizing the DOD's procurement practices including its relationship with Boeing, the Army took the step of changing at least one Boeing contract and "the Air Force restructured a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. for C-130J transport planes," the Washington Post reported.

6) TSA's Egregious Spending: That's right. The agency responsible for protecting America's skies has its priorities all wrong. The Inspector General for the Dept. of Homeland Security reported in April that TSA has spent lavishly--to the tune of $500,000--buying artwork and silk plants for a TSA operations center whose mission is monitoring transportation security incidents. It's certainly not the first time that TSA has mismanaged taxpayer dollars. The agency--created by the Administration after the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks--wasted almost $500,000 on creating an office suite for its first leader, hosted a birthday party (for itself) and awards banquet costing another nearly half a million dollars, bought Sub-Zero refrigerators at $3,000 a pop, and spent thousands of dollars over three years to put cable television in employees' offices. TSA employees "ignored federal contracting rules and appeared to conceal their spending," the Washington Post explained, and a different IG report revealed that TSA is still failing to find guns and knives when tests were run at airport security checkpoints.

7) Mercury Politics: Nikki Tinsley, the EPA's Inspector General, disclosed in February that Administration officials had instructed the EPA's staff to set artificially low limits on mercury pollution and then find a way to justify a pre-determined policy. Doing the bidding of coal-burning power plants and other industries, the Administration, Tinsley courageously charged, dismissed scientific evidence and ignored the agency's procedures to reach a policy that allows more mercury into the environment, which has been shown to be especially harmful to children and pregnant women.

8) "The Jungle": In February, the GAO issued a groundbreaking report about the flaws in protecting workers employed by the meat and poultry industries. The GAO found, for instance, that while statistics in the numbers of injuries on the job appear to be declining, the industries might not be reporting these figures accurately, and that working at such plants remains hazardous work. No single federal agency monitors the line speed at the plants and protects workers from getting injured because of the pressures of production. The GAO and the Department of Health and Human Services encountered resistance from the big poultry and meatpacking companies in gaining access to their facilities.

9) DoJ's White-Collar Friends: In March, the GAO discovered that the Justice Department had failed to collect fines and other forms of restitution from white-collar criminals who were high-ranking corporate officials. (They went unnamed in the report because their cases are still pending.) While some of the criminals claimed to be wiped out--saying that they lacked the resources to pay the fines to the federal government--they were still luxuriating in million dollar homes. Some of the criminals had hidden their assets from the government. The Justice Department acted like it didn't care one way or the other. And the GAO also reported that two of the criminals in question traveled overseas while they were on supervised release--adding fuel to the fire that white-collar criminals are living large even as they avoid paying the fines the courts ordered them to pay. Only about seven percent of the $568 million in court-ordered restitution to crime victims has been collected, the GAO reported.

10) Do Tell: Also in February, the GAO reported that the cost of the government's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies amounted to nearly $200 million from 1994 to 2003. The costs involved the amount of money needed to recruit and train replacements including translators and other highly skilled troops for the men and women discharged under the Army's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Marty Meehan, the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, wants to pass legislation that will repeal the policy which forces soldiers out of the Armed Forces and causes the country to lose access to these talented people willing to serve.

In 2000, Bush vowed that he would restore "integrity" to the White House. No surprise, that hasn't happened. But at least these reports show there are federal investigators who--unlike many Administration officials--are willing to do the hard work to promote ethics in government.

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