Saturday, December 29, 2007

End of the Year - Say Goodbye to More of Your Money

Let's look at some of the places our tax dollars have gone this year. A year after Republicans threw away both houses of Congress on their Iraq policy and greed, how do things stack up in the old earmarks department? To help us keep track of these things, and a few others, I've added another group of links to the right side - "Trust, but Verify."

Today's WaPo has a nice article on some of those earmarks, including one of John Murtha's favorite groups, the National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence. He's helped direct about $676 million to this group since it opened in 1991. Murtha may be great on Iraq policy, but he's pitiful as a steward of our tax dollars. From the Post:

Only nine systems developed by the center since 2001 have been put into use at more than one installation, one standard auditors use for measuring the success of technology transfer, Army officials said. That includes such equipment as compost-monitoring technology, bullet-trap technology and hand-held computers for collecting information in the field about unexploded ordnance. Just one system made the leap from the center's labs to multiple locations in the 1990s, Pentagon auditors found.

Army officials responsible for overseeing the center, known as the NDCEE, acknowledged the shortcomings. In interviews and statements, officials said they are working hard to do a better job to identify Defense Department needs and translate the center's research into action.

"Merely showing that a technology works and is cost-effective, and placing the results in a report has not been sufficient," an Army statement said.

The environmental program illustrates the gaps in oversight that have often accompanied the government's surging use of private contractors. It also shows how politically connected programs can thrive over many years in the face of questions about performance and cost. . . . Murtha also helped start Concurrent Technologies, the tax-exempt charity that manages the center. Established in an old high school in 1988, Concurrent has grown into a contracting powerhouse. Its annual revenue is now nearly $250 million, most of it from an eclectic array of Defense Department contracts.

The Project on Government Oversight notes that contractors and lobbyists have not slowed down a bit in response to the new political landscape. Democrats out of power were barely on their rollerdexes. Now they're on speed dial.

This week, Government Executive reports that the leading federal contractors are directing the bulk of their campaign contributions to the Democratic presidential contenders. Sen. Hillary Clinton currently leads the field, raising more money from the employees and political action committees of the 50 biggest federal contractors (most of which are featured in POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database) than any of the other Democratic and Republican candidates.

Now, as a reasonable person, you would think the contracting community would steer clear of a candidate who makes slashing up to half a million federal contracting positions a centerpiece of her campaign. Why, then, are contractors so keen on Hillary?

The Government Executive article quotes Stan Soloway, president of a federal contractor trade group called the Professional Services Council and longtime, ahem, friend of POGO, who dismisses her downsizing proposal as mere campaign rhetoric that doesn’t stand a chance of becoming a reality. Soloway has a point. After all, the contractors contributing to Clinton’s campaign are doing so for a multitude of reasons other than landing plum business deals with the government. Some are building on connections they established during her husband's administration. Soloway, for example, served as deputy undersecretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, whose “Reinventing Government” program was a tremendous boon for contractors. Perhaps these contractors are hopeful the other Clinton will prove equally beneficial.

Close to home, Congress has poured another $400 in cost overruns to their new visitor's center. A lovely place that was designed and redesigned and re-redesigned. It will open one of these days, hopefully without too much more of our money having been poured into it.


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