I want to make sure you didn't miss the recent editorial below from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch-it's about my fight to protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse with an overhaul of the way our government contracts with private companies during wartime.
Missouri's own Harry Truman knew the dangers of war profiteers, which is why he held them accountable during World War II. I hope he'd be proud of what we accomplished in the Senate last week, when we won approval of my wartime contracting reform as part of the national defense bill. Now, as we negotiate with the U.S. House of Representatives on a final version of the defense bill, I'm ramping up the pressure on my House colleagues to make sure my legislation remains intact
You can read the full editorial below.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In 10 years of U.S. contracting boondoggles in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps the most notorious is the Jadriyah Lake Water Park on the Tigris River in Baghdad.
Like most of the boondoggles - and a U.S. Senate committee found there could be as much as $60 billion worth, not counting bribes to warlords, sheikhs, government officials and other loyal allies - the water park started off with the best of intentions.
In early 2008, Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the U.S. commander in Iraq, got sick of looking down from his helicopter at Jadriyah Lake, a tourist attraction built by Saddam Hussein's government before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Five years of war had left it abandoned and desolate. Why not fix it up, Gen. Petraeus reasoned. Build some good will, win a few hearts and minds - the very essence of counterinsurgency tactics.
So $1 million went to a contractor to restore the lake, build a marina and restaurants and buy some jet-skis for rental. Elsewhere in Baghdad, bombs were going off and rockets were flying, but there on the Tigris, U.S. taxpayers provided jet-skis.
Within a few months, the pumping station conked out. The Iraqi government had no interest in sustaining the water park and the lake dried up. The only good thing about this boondoggle was that only $1 million was wasted on it. Far more expensive boondoggles were taking place elsewhere.
On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed its version of this year's Defense Authorization Bill, $631 billion worth of military spending. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto it as too expensive and too restrictive on how terrorist detainees at the Guantanamo prison can be transferred. The House has its own version of the spending bill, so the versions will have to be reconciled starting next week.
But included in the Senate bill are recommendations contained in Sen. Claire McCaskill's, D-Mo., Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act. Ms. McCaskill, relentlessly invoking the memory of the Truman Committee that cracked down on profiteering during World War II, made contract oversight a major priority during her first term.
Ms. McCaskill's Senate Committee on Contracting Oversight held countless hearings on countless boondoggles by the Pentagon, State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. In 2007, she and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., pushed for the creation of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In August last year, that commission reported that at least $31 billion, and possibly as much as $60 billion, had gone down the drain in waste, fraud and abuse in the two wars.
The commission's recommendations, now incorporated in the Senate's Defense Authorization Bill, extensively overhaul the contract management and oversight process. The bill would make the contracting process more transparent and give more authority to special inspectors general overseeing spending.
"We need to know which agency is responsible for the contract," Ms. McCaskill told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday. "You get a lot of finger-pointing among State, Defense and USAID. It's like a circular firing squad. Agencies should have to take primary responsibility. They should ask, ‘Is this sustainable? Is it legal? Are there inherent risks?' "
With the Pentagon fearful of budget cuts and every agency in the government worried about deficit reform, who could be opposed to solid, good-government legislation?
"I've been here long enough to be cynical," Ms. McCaskill said, suggesting that some contractors might "get to" some House members.
"The only fig-leaf they might try is to argue that this ties the hands of the military when it needs to act quickly, or that it adds too many layers of government. I understand that when we're doing counterinsurgency we need to be flexible, but I don't think those ‘greatest hits' arguments have much merit."
She said, "Anyone who thinks we can't cut money at the Pentagon doesn't understand contracting at the Pentagon."
A year before Pearl Harbor - attacked by the Japanese 71 years ago today - as the United States was gearing up for a war many Americans still hoped to avoid, Sen. Harry S Truman, D-Mo., set out to investigate wartime profiteering. He got into his beloved Dodge and drove 10,000 miles doing on-site inspections at military bases and factories. Subsequent hearings by his committee shocked the nation. He became a national figure with the stature he needed to become Franklin Roosevelt's successor.
"With Truman and World War II, the country was so invested in a personal way," Ms. McCaskill said. "There was sacrifice being asked of everyone. So war profiteering was seen as something that was really inappropriate."
But in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, the sacrifice has been borne by a relative handful of Americans. And though the nation was pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the wars, Ms. McCaskill said, "I don't think that people making a lot of money off the war was considered bad form as it was in Harry Truman's day. It irks people, sure. Pallets of cash. Weapons in the hands of the enemy, billions and billions wasted on incompetence, but we don't have the kind of outrage we did then."
We should have. If we can't manage outrage, we should at least give a damn. We should be outraged that the Iraq war was ever started and the Afghan war has been allowed to drag on. We should care that our young men and women are being killed in a war that cannot be won, often by the people they are there to help.
It's way past time to be gone. And it's to make sure that if this sort of thing ever happens again, thieves and bumblers on both sides of the ocean don't steal us blind.
All the best,
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Washington, DC Office