The Pentagon vowed Wednesday that it's getting better at handling war zone contracting after a congressionally appointed panel announced DoD has lost some $31 billion to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total amount lost could end up as high as $60 billion, depending on the outcomes of projects in both countries going forward. The Commission on Wartime Contracting's report to Congress makes Monday's USA Today story about the $720 million in late cargo container fees look like pocket change lost in a car seat.
So here we go -- this script is so old and shopworn it would embarrass even the most desperate Burbank hack: According to its statement, the Pentagon shares the commission's concerns; in fact, it's grateful to this report for "shining a spotlight on the risks of over-reliance on contractors," which is the first time in history anyone has ever done so. But, just as when any report about anything comes out, all it does is confirm what leaders already believed, so this is really old news, and besides, DoD has already been implementing a "number of steps" to address these issues, so ... problem solved! Nothing to see here.
For the record, here in full is DoD's accounting of how it's improving its "contingency contracting:"
• Investigation and prosecution of individuals engaging in fraud • Increased staffing for contract oversight including having more military personnel in the acquisition corps and increasing the number of contracting officer representatives providing contractor oversight to better prevent and detect fraud • Better training for deployed military supervising and interacting with contractor personnel • Establishing a Joint Theater Support Contracting Command at CENTCOM • Establishing policy and planning requirements for Operational Contractor Support in future contingencies at the Joint Staff and in Departmental guidance • Focusing on project sustainability, particularly for the Afghan National Security Forces • Increasing competition in contingency contracting by competing a new LOGCAP contract and qualifying more vendors so that under the LOGCAP IV contract there will be ongoing competition between contractors for task orders throughout the contract's life • Increased capacity of the acquisition workforce since 2009 as part of a deliberate Department-wide initiative to rebuild the acquisition workforce. • DoD created and filled 9,000 new acquisition workforce positions, strengthening the contracting workforce and contributing to rebuilding the Defense Contract Management and Defense Contract Audit Agency.Although DoD's announcement didn't say this specifically, there is one final point under the official Embarrassing Report Response Doctrine, which you should look for among service and DoD officials going forward. A top leader, possibly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, whose Senate confirmation hearing is Sept. 13, will say that this is a big organization; these things take awhile; you can't turn on a dime; it takes awhile to turn an aircraft carrier; Rome wasn't built a day; the check's in the mail; stop picking on me you bullies -- when reporters or lawmakers ask how or when anyone will be able to tell whether anything has actually changed.
What frustrates many observers about the Pentagon's responses to these reports is they always call for the current system and the current people to work better. No one is fired, there's no restructuring -- instead, the department will rely on the same old miracles: competition, communications and training. Although there are some bigger changes in the works: Over the long term, Carter and other top leaders hope that adding more people to the acquisitions workforce will help it build a corps of professional managers and experts who can learn to run the rodeo better -- and then keep it that way.
The question is, will they actually make a difference? And can the department keep adding civilian workers at a time when it's under such intense budget scrutiny?