Obama waging unhelpful war against contractors 

Waging war requires serious acts, along with sober words. And in that arena, the Obama administration has yet to prove itself. Indeed, at times it seems the White House is intent on fighting another war — one in which the perceived enemy is America’s defense industries.

Leading the apparent offensive against this vital sector of the economy is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. When the West Wing switched from right wing to left wing, Gates quickly seemed to discover that one of the great nonstate threats facing America was the companies that provided the Pentagon goods, services and materials.

The first target in Obama’s war was LOGCAP, the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program. LOGCAP is a massive contract used to deliver a host of theater support — laundry, gasoline, etc. — during a large-scale contingency operation.


In 1997, for operations in the Balkans, President Bill Clinton’s Pentagon issued an even bigger LOGCAP, what one observer called “the mother of all service contracts.”

Until recently, the LOGCAP contract for Afghanistan was held by KBR, a company hated by the left because it was once part of a firm run by Dick Cheney. Last year, tired of taking left-wing heat for giving a former Cheney company too much business, the Pentagon split the contract among several companies.

Unfortunately, they forgot they were about to surge military forces in Afghanistan.

Now, the brass finds itself in a pickle. The military is ramping up, but contractors are switching out.

The new contractors don’t understand the requirements, procedures and the country, along with the ones who have been putting new troops in place and supporting them for years.

Confusion, inefficiency and mistakes abound. But that’s what happens when politicians put a political gesture ahead of the needs of the nation.

It’s curious now to see President Barack Obama railing at the military for not deploying the troops to Afghanistan faster. The fault lies with his own war on the contractors.

A second notable strike on the private sector was Gates’ summary execution of a wide range of defense programs. He already killed off the F-22 production line and gutted missile defense programs by 15 percent. Now there’s talk of cutting back on the Joint Strike Fighter.

 Decisions like these have consequences. Increasingly, defense industries are becoming dependent on research and development to make a profit, knowing they may never get to build anything. They also are losing the capacity to build.

Some sectors of military and space aviation already are on life support. One defense analyst, Rebecca Grant, predicts the aviation sector will deteriorate to the point that companies will only be able to stay alive by doing maintenance. Forget about making things. By 2014, fixed-wing production lines in the U.S. will drop from six to three.

Strike three was an acquisition “reform” law backed by the Pentagon and signed by the president last year. The reforms just layered on more red tape in the procurement process.

For example, the law sets up a whole new bureaucracy to conduct independent cost and program assessments, exactly duplicating what several other organizations already do. Odds are the reforms will cause more cost overruns and program delays.

Today, the Pentagon is busy eliminating 33,000 private sector employees and replacing them with federal (union) workers. The primary reason for this initiative is a general distrust of contractors. There’s little evidence to suggest that the move will either save money or improve operations. Indeed, in most cases the government is just “poaching” the employees from contractors, further gutting the industrial base.

The president has openly declared we are at war with international terrorists. But his actions indicate he’s waging a second, secret war against the defense industry here at home.

James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.

 

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