Thursday, February 08, 2007

Someone Else's Money

Join the dots, please.

The US sent $12 billion in cash - 363 metric tonnes - of cash into iraq in the days of Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority and saw much of it dissapear due to insufficient oversight and outright corruption.
The memorandum concludes: "Many of the funds appear to have been lost to corruption and waste ... thousands of 'ghost employees' were receiving pay cheques from Iraqi ministries under the CPA's control. Some of the funds could have enriched both criminals and insurgents fighting the United States."

According to Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, the $8.8bn funds to Iraqi ministries were disbursed "without assurance the monies were properly used or accounted for". But, according to the memorandum, "he now believes that the lack of accountability and transparency extended to the entire $20bn expended by the CPA".

To oversee the expenditure the CPA was supposed to appoint an independent certified public accounting firm. "Instead the CPA hired an obscure consulting firm called North Star Consultants Inc. The firm was so small that it reportedly operates out of a private home in San Diego." Mr Bowen found that the company "did not perform a review of internal controls as required by the contract".
Yet US administration officials involved in the debacle - carelessly tossing around cash the equivalent in weight of 38 London buses - seem to be very uncaring, on the basis that it was Iraqi money not American.
Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA, reminded the committee that "the subject of today's hearing is the CPA's use and accounting for funds belonging to the Iraqi people held in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq. These are not appropriated American funds. They are Iraqi funds. I believe the CPA discharged its responsibilities to manage these Iraqi funds on behalf of the Iraqi people."

Bremer's financial adviser, retired Admiral David Oliver, is even more direct. The memorandum quotes an interview with the BBC World Service. Asked what had happened to the $8.8bn he replied: "I have no idea. I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't - nor do I actually think it's important."

Q: "But the fact is billions of dollars have disappeared without trace."

Oliver: "Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?"
The same careless ease with other people's money seems to be endemic to the military/industrial complex. For instance:
A US court has charged three reserve army officers and two civilians with using millions of dollars of Iraq reconstruction money for personal gain.
The group are accused of directing at least $8m (£4m) to a construction firm run by a US businessman in return for luxuries such as cars and jewellery.

The officers were responsible for supervising how some $26bn was spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq.

One man has already been jailed and another awaits sentence over the scam.
But the corruption and theft isn't only about Iraqi money. Remember the various scandals surrounding defense contractor Brent Wilkes and his friends Dusty Foggo and Duke Cunningham? Or Stephen Potoski? If you weren't paying attention you would definitely have missed this yesterday:
A National Security Agency employee from Severna Park has been charged with conflict of interest in the funneling of money from a government contract to a family-run business, authorities said yesterday.

Wayne J. Schepens, 37, was charged yesterday with one count of an act affecting a personal financial interest in U.S. District Court for Maryland.

Schepens was responsible for directing a cyber-defense exercise designed to grade cadets and midshipmen at military service academies on their ability to protect computer networks from attacks by hackers, according to the charge filed in court.

The government alleges that in 2004, Schepens directed that a sole-source subcontract for $340,000 be awarded to CDXperts Inc. The corporation was based at Schepens's home, and his wife served as chief executive, according to the charge.
However it isn't until you get into the higher realms of the military/industrial complex that you find the really big money and flagrant self-appropriation by major corporations of someone else's (taxpayer's) money.

Like this:
Whistle-blowers told how the company charged $45 per case of soda, double-billed on meals and allowed troops to bathe in contaminated water.
Halliburton officials have denied the allegations strenuously. Army officials yesterday defended the company's performance but also acknowledged that reliance on a single contractor left the government vulnerable.
Or this:
"After 10 years and $1.7 billion, this is what the Marines Corps got for its investment in a new amphibious vehicle: A craft that breaks down about an average of once every 4 1/2 hours, leaks and sometimes veers off course. And for that, the contractor, General Dynamics of Falls Church, received $80 million in bonuses,"

...Despite reforms meant to rein in costs, it is not unusual for weapons programs to go 20 to 50 percent over budget, the Government Accountability Office recently found. Among the offenders is the Army's sprawling modernization program, which aims to update everything from tanks to drones and is now expected to cost $160 billion [or much more -- ed.], up from $90 billion, and a Lockheed Martin missile-warning satellite program, which is projected to cost more than $10 billion, up from $4 billion...
Go on, join all those dots. You're left with an inescapable feeling that the Bush administration has presided over a slide into a culture of corruption for the military/homeland security/industrial complex which has turned that massive conglomerate of power into a third world cesspool.

When the Senate is looking to trim Bush's budget and he is suggesting the cuts should come from social programs like Medicare, perhaps they should suggest instead that he should get his house in order and stop the haemorrage of someone else's (taxpayer's) money into big military corporation's pockets. If the Pentagon's budget is about $600 billion then simply ending those 20 to 50% over-runs should save a $100 billion or so. Plus some sofa-change from an attempt to stop his own officials and officers either giving away or appropriating a few tens of millions here and a few tens of millions there. Pretty soon, you're talking about real money...

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