by Max Brantley
It's a shame that the NY Times' Frank Rich is available only to subscribers. His Sunday column synthesizes so many things so well. Today's is so good, it might be worth signing up for a free trial on Times select. BUT WAIT: Truthout has it here.
The subject is the Bush administration's "competitive sourcing" policy. It's the concerted effort to outsource government work to private contractors. The stated aim is highest quality at lowest cost for taxpayers. As Rich notes, the result is low quality at high cost and, recently, the criminal conviction of a former White Houe aide David Safavian for abusing the system with golfing outings to Scotland, etc., from grateful profiteering contractors. And then, Rich hits Arkansas. He names no names, but you know who he is talking about, among many other greedy opportunists from the Bush administration who hit the revolving door to cash in on "competitve sourcing:"
The Department of Homeland Security, in keeping with the Bush administration's original opposition to it, isn't really a government agency at all so much as an empty shell, a networking boot camp for future private contractors dreaming of big paydays. Thanks to an investigation by The Times's Eric Lipton, we know that some two-thirds of the top department executives, including Tom Ridge and his principal deputies, have cashed in on their often brief service by becoming executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that have received billions of dollars in government contracts. Even John Ashcroft, the first former attorney general in American history known to immediately register as a lobbyist, is selling his Homeland Security connections to interested bidders. ''When you got it, flaunt it!'' as they say in ''The Producers.''
To see the impact of such revolving-door cronyism, just look at the Homeland Security process that mandated those cutbacks for New York and Washington. The official in charge, the assistant secretary for grants and training, is Tracy Henke, an Ashcroft apparatchik from the Justice Department who was best known for trying to politicize the findings of its Bureau of Justice Statistics. (So much so that the White House installed her in Homeland Security with a recess appointment, to shield her from protracted Senate scrutiny.) Under Henke math, it follows that St. Louis, in her home state (and Mr. Ashcroft's), has seen its counterterrorism allotment rise by more than 30 percent while that for the cities actually attacked on 9/11 fell. And guess what: the private contractor hired by Homeland Security to consult on Ms. Henke's handiwork, Booz Allen Hamilton, now just happens to employ Greg Rothwell, who was the department's procurement chief until December. Booz Allen recently nailed a $250 million Homeland Security contract for technology consulting.
...But the most lethal impact of competitive sourcing, as measured in human cost, is playing out in Iraq. In the standard narrative of American failure in the war, the pivotal early error was Donald Rumsfeld's decision to ignore the advice of Gen. Eric Shinseki and others, who warned that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure the country once we inherited it. But equally reckless, we can now see, was the administration's lax privatization of the country's reconstruction, often with pet companies and campaign contributors and without safeguards or accountability to guarantee results.
Washington's promises to rebuild Iraq were worth no more than its promises to rebuild New Orleans.