Friday, February 16, 2007

Waxman looks for Iraq waste

I continue to see Rep. Henry Waxman Representative for the 30th District in California making headlines investigating the Department of Defense’s actions in contracting for Iraq Reconstruction. From his webpage he proclaims “As the result of an investigation by Rep. Waxman the Army discovered significant violations involving the use of private security services. At one of the Oversight Committee’s first fraud, waste, and abuse hearings this Congress, the Army announced that it was reducing payments to KBR by $19.6 million.”

Rep. Waxman and other members of Congress have been seeking information on contracts entered into by the Administration for reconstruction and development work in Iraq, including several billion dollar contracts with a subsidiary of Halliburton Corporation. His investigating committee has raised questions about the Iraq contracting process. I am all for saving dollars that are not producing necessary results or fraudulently applied. Soldiers and civilian contracting personnel that line their own pockets with kickbacks and contractor perks are equally in need of correction. What is not being done is true repair of the convoluted contracting process born of special interests and pork barrel politics. No task is identified to streamline contracting to the basics of cost, schedule and performance.

Having been in Iraq and seeing the expenditure of large sums of money as well as also serving in Hurricane Katrina Recovery, I can state that oversight is vitally needed for the proper accountability of our tax dollars. However – 20-20 hindsight from a safe and secure conference room is patently unfair to the dedicated contracting officers that must execute with an extremely convoluted set of regulations, conflicting guidance and parochial interests. Throwing out unsubstantiated headline numbers (10 billion dollars in waste) is fodder for the press and not constructive to the process.

In both Iraq and in Hurricane Katrina relief, incredible forces of politicians at local, national level make grand promises with unrealistic expectations. The mechanics are left to a contracting officer to execute. Imagine if I told you to buy a truck to do a job for a neighbor and told you I needed it by tomorrow. You would go to the local truck dealership and buy the truck with the specifications I was able to provide. Based on our experience presumably we would get the job done. Now imagine its in Iraq – you must first wade through 20 pounds of regulations, there are no specifications, the guidance does not cover the conditions your faced with, you must convince the vendor to risk life and limb to deliver the vehicle, the neighbor in this case will not accept the vehicle you chose, the press criticizes you for not getting the vehicle quicker. The vendor passes the costs of transport, security on to you, other vendors cry foul because they could not participate in the contract. Following your trials a congressman will criticize you to make headlines.

That is the life for a contract officer – you will never get it fast enough, be fair to all, cover down on every special interest and locality contracting group, and make every politician happy. The tough thing is that congressman Waxman is shooting at people that make things happen despite the myriad of obstacles, rules and bureaucracy created by his predecessors in Congress. Take a look at your tax rules…now imagine working with 10 times that volume of rules in a war zone, without consensus oversight, doing a task never before accomplished, with inexperienced personnel, with your efforts targeted by the opposition, your contractor personnel killed regularly, and no real cooperation from other agencies. There are vacancies for these less than ideal positions in Iraq now… any takers.

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