Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lobbying for war and milking the taxpayers

Lee Fang gives us an update on one of the groups logging for military escalation in Syria-Iraq, the Americans for Peace, Prosperity, and Security (APPS), in Defense Contractors Laud Themselves for Steering Candidates Toward Militarism The Intercept 12/11/2015.

He cites another of his articles from this year on the group, Military Contractors Behind New Pressure Group Targeting Presidential Candidates The Intercept 05/09/2015.

In the earlier article, he writes:

Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers has formed a new pressure group, now active in Iowa and New Hampshire, to serve as the “premiere national security and foreign policy organization during the 2016 debate” and to “help elect a president who supports American engagement and a strong foreign policy.”

... The organization does not disclose its donors. But a look at the business executives helping APPS steer presidential candidates towards more hawkish positions reveals that many are defense contractors who stand to gain financially from continued militarism:

  • Advisory Board Member John Coburn is chairman and CEO of VT Systems, a company that delivers communications technology for the Defense Department.
  • Advisory Board Member Stephen Hadley is a principal at the consulting firm RiceHadleyGates and serves as a board member to defense contractor Raytheon, a position that pays him $228,007 in annual compensation.
  • New Hampshire Board Member Rich Ashooh lists his employment as Director, Strategy at BAE Systems.
  • New Hampshire Board Member James Bell is the chief executive of EPE Corporation, a manufacturing company that says it is a “premier supplier to the defense community.”
  • Advisory Board Member John Engler is the president of the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group for major corporations, including defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Technologies and Northrop Grumman.
  • New Hampshire Board Member Ken Solinksy is founder of Insight Technologies, a night vision and electro-optical systems firm acquired by L-3 Communications.
  • New Hampshire Chairman and Advisory Board Member Walt Havenstein is the former chief executive of BAE Systems and SAIC, two of the largest defense contractors in America. Havenstein, who left SAIC in 2012, was paid partially in company stock options.
Defense industry profiteering is hardly discussed in mainstream politics, so great is the current idolatry for the military in both the Republican and Democratic parties, though it's clearly more extreme in the former.

In the later article, Fang cites the group's own claims to driving the Republican discussion on Syrian policy.

As utopian as it sounds in the present moment, a democratic government doesn't have to give military profiteers from lobbying free rein to the extent the US does right now. The reporting requirements for donors can be intensified. Companies that get military contracts can be restricted in their lobbying in various ways, including by contract terms. If Congress wasn't in hock to military profiteers, they could exercise aggressive oversight on them.

Senator Harry Truman gained national prominence during the Second World War by heading the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which investigated efficiency and corruption in defense industries. Congress does exercise some oversight. But it's more of a joke than a burden for war profiteers.

Also during the Second World War, the government imposed profit limits on military contractors. Absolute heresy today. But it has been done and could be again.

If we had a more professional and responsible national press, they would also put far more scrutiny on this very important aspect driving US foreign policy and promoting war.

But the problems are real. And at least a few Members of Congress are paying attention. William Hartung writes in Pentagon waste machine is still well-fueled The Hill Congress Blog 12/03/2015

The overarching problem with Pentagon procurement is that the department cannot pass an audit, despite being required to do so by legislation passed nearly twenty years ago. As a result, as indicated above, the department simply cannot keep track of how much equipment it has, how many contractors it employs, or whether it is paying a fair price for the goods and services it is purchasing. There are bipartisan bills in both houses of Congress that would exact financial penalties from the Pentagon if it can't pass an audit. The House version has been proposed by Reps. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and co-sponsors include Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). So far neither bill has been passed into law.

Recent actions by the Pentagon and the Congress indicate that they have yet to take the idea of disciplined budgeting seriously. The recent budget deal places $58 billion of Pentagon budget in the war budget, tens of billions of which have nothing to do with fighting wars. As a result, these expenditures will not get the same scrutiny as spending included in the Pentagon’s base budget, and the irresponsible use of the war account as an unaccountable slush fund will continue. In addition, the Air Force’s decision to keep significant cost details about its new bomber secret will make it extremely difficult to prevent multi-billion dollar cost overruns in that program. [my emphasis]
And he cites the following examples of "inexcusable waste":

  • The Pentagon paid $720 million in late fees on shipping containers that it leased to get material back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan. This is in addition to the cost of the leases themselves.
  • The Department of Defense’s Inspector General identified over $1 million in personal expenditures on casinos and adult entertainment establishments that were charged to government-issued credit cards in an 11-month period during 2013 and 2014.
  • A report by the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon had stockpiled $9.2 billion in excess parts and supplies, with another half billion on order.
  • According to the Pentagon’s Inspector General, the Air Force failed to justify the need for an order of 401 MQ-9 aircraft, leading to the expenditure of $8.8 billion on aircraft that it may not need.
  • A GAO report released in July of this year found that since 2007, 200 parcels of military aid to Yemen sat unused in a warehouse in Virginia. The Pentagon was unable to give an estimate for the cost of the items, but it included night vision goggles worth over $600,000.

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