How Bush Allowed an Army of For-Profit Contractors to Invade the U.S. Treasury
–an excerpt from Rolling Stone–
How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins — he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress — until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.
Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you’ve been promising her all these years. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.
A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that’s supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. (Blogger omitted the description of the sub-par facility here)
Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company’s compensation. Touchy subject — you’ve got a “cost-plus” contract, which means you’re guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make — and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you’ve got to cut him off. “So you won’t voluntarily look at this,” Van Hollen is mumbling, “and say, given what has happened in this project . . . ”
“No, sir, I will not,” you snap.
“. . . ‘We will return the profits.’ . . .”
“No, sir, I will not,” you repeat.
Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush’s war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government.
In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity — to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they f…k things up.
….What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureaucracy….
It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted.