Privatizing Our Security, Wasting Our Money

Bill Scher

In the final debate of the 2000 presidential campaign, Vice-President Al Gore argued he would spend more on defense than his opponent. Then-Gov. George Bush retorted, “If this were a spending contest, I would come in second.”

A fair point. When it comes to public investment, it’s never just about the price tag. It’s about whether we invest our public dollars wisely and effectively. Are we picking the right priorities, allocating a sufficient amount, and investing in what works?

That’s not what happened on Bush’s watch.

The Washington Post reports today:

Government auditors issued a scathing review yesterday of dozens of the Pentagon’s biggest weapons systems, saying ships, aircraft and satellites are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

The Government Accountability Office [GAO] found that 95 major systems have exceeded their original budgets by a total of $295 billion, bringing their total cost to $1.6 trillion.

$295 billion wasted. To put in perspective, Bush vetoed more health insurance for kids supposedly because $35 billion — $7 billion a year over 5 years — was too much to spend.

Presiding over a wasteful defense budget is not a “strong on defense” position. It is, however, a conservative position.

Part of the problem is rooted in the fundamental conservative belief that government is bad, and key government functions should be privatized.

That ain’t working. From the GAO report:

GAO has noted that the DOD [Dept. of Defense] workforce faces serious challenges and has expressed concerns about DOD’s reliance on contractors to perform roles that have in the past been performed by government employees. Without the right-sized workforce, with the right skills, we believe this could place greater risk on the government for fraud, waste, and abuse.

In part, this increased reliance has occurred because DOD is experiencing a critical shortage of certain acquisition professionals with technical skills as it has downsized its workforce over the last decade. For example, in a prior review of space acquisition programs, we found that 8 of 13 cost-estimating organizations and program offices believed the number of cost estimators was inadequate and we found that 10 of those offices had more contractor personnel preparing cost estimates than government personnel.

The upside is that your tax dollars paid the GAO auditors who found this waste. It would be an even greater waste of our money to ignore their good work.

If we’re going to invest well in America’s foundation — in our health, our energy, our environment, our education, our infrastructure and our defense — we need people managing our government who believe in public investment and public accountability, and who and know the difference between smart investment and wasteful spending.

This is merely one way conservatives failed that test.

UPDATE: Rick finds more privatization making us less secure, over in the State Department’s passport office.

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