Tuesday, September 13, 2011

David Petraeus & Dianne Feinstein: Time to pull back from another failed experiment in "privatization"

A long-overdue development, picked up by Susan Crabtree at Talking Points Memo. Over the past decade, there has been a huge increase in the extent to which the US military and intelligent agencies have outsourced all sorts of activities to private contractors—which has involved higher costs, loss of accountability, and various other unpleasant and entirely predictable consequences. This whole venture has been one more exercise in what C. Wright Mills used to call "crackpot realism," abetted by the strange mixture of pro-market ideological delirium and practical corporate welfarism that has infected so many areas of public policy over the past several decades. With luck, this tide may start to get reversed, though I confess I'm not super-optimistic. Some highlights below. —Jeff Weintraub

Feinstein, Petraeus Say Wartime Contractors Must Go
Susan Crabtree | September 13, 2011, 12:46PM (TPM)

After the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence community, consisting of everything from the CIA to the Homeland Security Department, is outsourcing too much of its work to private contractors and is breaking a pledge to reduce the number of private contractors hired to help conduct, collect and analyze information.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Intelligence Committee, pointed out the broken promise at a hearing Tuesday, noting that the intelligence community is not living up to a commitment to reduce private contractors by 5 percent a year. [....]

"The overall number of contractors is in the tens of thousands - and the number across intelligence, defense, and homeland security is in the hundreds of thousands," she said.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence community hired thousands of contractors as a matter of convenience and expediency. However, contractor abuses, typified by Blackwater's infamous actions in Iraq, demonstrated just how dangerous it can be to outsource military and intelligence-gathering functions, especially capturing and interrogating detainees.

Feinstein argued that the crucial parts of intelligence operations - the collection, exploitation and analysis of information - are "inherently governmental functions that should be done by government employees at one-third less the cost per employee."

One week into his new role as CIA director, David Petraeus testified Thursday that contractors are at the top of his list of potential cuts in the new era of belt-tightening.

"Contractors - we're looking very hard at that as one of the areas we can achieve some savings," Petraeus said, recognizing the fact that many contractors have been devoted partners and have died in service to their country.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan in late August issued a report recommending that the Pentagon phase out its use of private security contractors or find a way to ensure that their presence on the battlefield does not put soldiers in harm's way.