Spend Visibility — Tax Dollars and In Theater Defense Procurement & Contract Fraud

Warfare today represents the antithesis of modern corporate objectives in that it is virtually impossible to establish measurable cost/benefit analysis preceding, in-process and following the event. While this is largely true because we can't measure the total cost of lives lost, it is also true because the objective of modern war is typically no longer an attempt to resolve a dispute over various commodities such as territory, resources, or other material advantages but involves more amorphous goals of attempting to alter relationships of social domination/ submission/ or equality between entities. Ironically, defense ingenuity has given rise to tremendous technological advances -- the first computer during WWII to rapidly calculate missile trajectories as one example -- but it is now way past time to reverse that flow of information and for defense spending to incorporate the advanced business tools of current procurement practice even if this is the only point of intersection when managing these diverse entities.

So it was with intense consternation that I read in last week's Washington Post that the "Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction ... The U.S. agency overseeing the multibillion dollar Afghanistan reconstruction effort ..., headed by retired Marine Corps Gen. Arnold Fields, was only established by Congress in 2008, nearly seven years after the U.S. invasion to oust the Taliban." General Fields' office "is investigating 38 criminal cases ranging from contract fraud to theft -- most involving non-Afghans, officials said Tuesday" according to the column. Raymond DiNunzio, the agency's assistant inspector general for inspections is quoted saying "40 percent of the criminal cases involve allegations of program fraud, procurement fraud or contract fraud while the other 60 percent involve bribery allegations and theft of emergency military funds. Two other investigations are under way into cases involving alleged negligence and incompetence."

While a dollar value was not assigned to this corruption, probably due to the ongoing investigations, "the international community has invested more than $60 billion since 2002 in reconstruction efforts, including $40 billion from the U.S. alone." With that amount of money at stake, how could procurement and contract fraud not have been anticipated and curbed from the start with the right systems in place to do so? Even more exasperating is the article's claim that "concerns have been raised in past months [bold face added] that the waste and fraud that has undermined the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq is being repeated in Afghanistan, particularly as the number of contractors rises."

Given that we have little say in how our tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to National Defense, we can and should expect that the direct expenditures made on our behalf are sufficiently visible, monitored and guarded. Wasteful management and poor decision making is one thing when it comes to government spending, but there can be no excuse for failure when the technology exists to prevent, detect and expose procurement and contract fraud in a theater of war where the lives of our military and native civilians are lost almost daily.

William Busch

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