Will DoD ever learn to do contracting right?

They are all set to repeat in Afghanistan the lousy contract management that plagues Iraq reconstruction. It just remians such a low priority and a red-headed stepchild of the overall effort, despite the failings undermining our goals there, as well as wasting untold millions of tax dollars. You’d think extending the simple truth that “when you hire someone to do work for you, you want to make sure you get what you pay for” would be easy to execute compared to say, invading a foreign country thousands of miles away. I am not saying this is trivial or easy. I am saying it is important. DoD has moved to a model in which they contract for a lot of support services. But they have not made the investment in personel, training, and most important managment, as well as command focus, needed to bring the clarity and accuntability to contracting that is necessary to make it successful. Just for starters, having spent a lot of time with government contracting personel, I can tell you they tend to have a “it’s us vs. the contractors” attitude. When you hire a plumber to fix your pipes, you can have a “you vs. the plumber” relationship. The same truth scales up. A lot of change needs to happen, and it is moving slow. According to the AP:

Waste and corruption that marred Iraq’s reconstruction will be repeated in Afghanistan unless the U.S. transforms the unwieldy bureaucracy managing tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, government watchdogs warned Monday. The U.S. has devoted more than $30 billion to rebuilding Afghanistan. Yet despite the hard lessons learned in Iraq, where the U.S. has spent nearly $51 billion on reconstruction, the effort in Afghanistan is headed down the same path, the watchdogs told a new panel investigating wartime contracts. “Before we go pouring more money in, we really need to know what we’re trying to accomplish (in Afghanistan),” said Ginger Cruz, deputy special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. “And at what point do you turn off the spigot so you’re not pouring money into a black hole?” …….Cruz, along with Stuart Bowen, the top U.S. official overseeing Iraq’s reconstruction, delivered a grim report to the Commission on Wartime Contracting. Their assessment, along with testimony from Thomas Gimble of the Defense Department inspector general’s office, laid out a history of poor planning, weak oversight and greed that soaked U.S. taxpayers and undermined American forces in Iraq. ……A 456-page study by Bowen’s office, “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” reviews the problems in an effort the Bush administration initially thought would cost $2.4 billion. The U.S. government “was neither prepared for nor able to respond quickly to the ever-changing demands” of stabilizing Iraq and then rebuilding it, said Bowen. “For the last six years we have been on a steep learning curve.” Overall, the Pentagon, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have paid contractors more than $100 billion since 2003 for goods and services to support war operations and rebuilding projects in Iraq and Afghanistan……. There are 154 open criminal investigations into allegations of bribery, conflicts of interest, defective products, bid rigging and theft in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, said Gimble, the Pentagon’s principal deputy inspector general.

Hat tip to Brian Doherty over at Hit and Run for this.