PerspectivePosted: September 22, 2009
One of the first things to go when people get morally outraged is their perspective. Not only do they frequently lose perspective, they also lose sight of bigger issues. A sense of outrage simply overwhelms one’s sense of perspective. The enraged heart overtakes the circumspect mind.
I’ve talked about The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) before when I brought up a defense contract maintained by the Federal Government with a company called ArmorGroup. This is the group that basically used Lord of the Flies-like hazing parties for their private security forces guarding embassies in places like Afghanistan. Whistle blowers, POGO, and government audits turned up a lot of fraud and abuse. There were even congressional hearings and questions, however, the contract was continued. Some press coverage reopened the issue earlier this year but the company basically was paid lots of federal dollars before any one took some real notice of it. Other mercenary-like groups–hired by our Defense Department–have had similar issues. Blackwater, while operating in Iraq, was said to be responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and has been barred from doing business in the country by the Iraqi government. These are just some of the more egregious examples.
Then, there are the defense contractors building bombs and buildings. Remember the solider in Iraq was killed due to faulty wiring by KBR?
American electricians who worked for KBR, the Houston-based defense contractor that is responsible for maintaining American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, said they repeatedly warned company managers and military officials about unsafe electrical work, which was often performed by poorly trained Iraqis and Afghans paid just a few dollars a day.
One electrician warned his KBR bosses in his 2005 letter of resignation that unsafe electrical work was “a disaster waiting to happen.” Another said he witnessed an American soldier in Afghanistan receiving a potentially lethal shock. A third provided e-mail messages and other documents showing that he had complained to KBR and the government that logs were created to make it appear that nonexistent electrical safety systems were properly functioning.
KBR itself told the Pentagon in early 2007 about unsafe electrical wiring at a base near the Baghdad airport, but no repairs were made. Less than a year later, a soldier was electrocuted in a shower there.
The process of seeking out contractor abuse is nothing new to this government or any other in this country. You may remember that during FDR’s campaign for the presidency, wife Eleanor rode around in car with a steaming teapot on the roof to remind folks of the Teapot Dome Scandal. Folks taking advantage of federal money go from the small fry to the country’s largest multinationals. Lincoln warned of it. So, did Eisenhower.
I remember during the Hurricane Katrina diaspora, many folks were said to use debit cards given to them as largess of the taxpayer on strippers, alcohol and guns. I can say that the money the U.S. government gave to me went to things like driving to Omaha, food, and pajamas. But people are stupid and then stupid things happen. But who do you focus upon? The one idiot the spent the money in the strip joint or the company of a friend of Jeb Bush that sold faulty pumps to the Corps of Engineers? You know the ones that would be necessary to get water out of the city should anything like Hurricane Katrina happen again? You remember Hurricane Katrina? People died? Incredibly costly damage? That sort of thing? I think there was more outrage over the few thousands of dollars they went to Houston strip joints than to any of the fraud that went on with the levee building, installation of the new pumps, and who knows what else will eventually be uncovered by the time these projects are audited by the GAO?
Well, POGO, who has been at the business of rooting out government corruption for some time, has some advice worth reading. It’s about the Defund ACORN Act that was specifically put together to remove federal contracts from ACORN after two Republican activists with a camera, an agenda, and really bad costumes got a bunch of employees to do some really stupid things. Some of those stupid things could be potentially illegal, including providing advice on how to defraud the IRS and avoid state and federal laws. The resultant video and the set-up caught some pretty egregious suggestions. The most indefensible of the suggestions was the potential for the advice to aid the setting up of sex trade using minors brought in illegally. There is no way not to be outraged at any one that would suggest using minors in the sex trade is anything but horrid. But again, there are a lot of issues to focus on here. This brings make back to the POGO post today.
The bill specifically targets ACORN, but it also applies to “any organization” or its employees who are charged with violating federal or state election, campaign finance or lobbying disclosure laws or filing a fraudulent form with any federal or state regulatory agency.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is particularly interested in the fraud provision. Recognizing that there are probably worse offenders than ACORN in this area, Grayson is looking for help in coming up with a list of organizations that have committed fraud against the government or employed someone who did. Rep. Grayson will put his list in the Congressional Record as part of a legislative history that judges and lawyers can use to interpret the law.
POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database is a great place to start. At last count, it includes 87 instances of government contract fraud – federal and state – involving 43 contractors. You might want to focus on Lockheed Martin, which has 11 government contract fraud instances, or Northrop Grumman with 9 contract fraud instances including this $325 million False Claims Act settlement from earlier this year.
Bear in mind that, since 1994, ACORN has reportedly received a total of $53 million in federal funds, or an average of roughly $3.5 million per year. In contrast, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman respectively received over $35 billion and $18 billion in federal contracts last year. (Their totals since 2000 are $266 billion for Lockheed and $125 billion for Northrop.)
Congress should clamp down on contractor fraud and waste, but it needs to keep a sense of proportion. If ACORN broke the law it, should be punished; however, Congress also needs to crack down just as rigorously on the contractors who take an even larger share of taxpayers’ money and have committed far more, or far more egregious, acts of misconduct. POGO hopes the mentality behind bills like the “Defund ACORN Act,” combined with the new contractor / grantee responsibility database and mandatory misconduct reporting rule, reflects a new zero-tolerance attitude toward contractor misconduct.
We’ve been pouring billions of dollars with little oversight or accountability required to the financial sector. We continue to pour trillions of dollars into two wars. I doubt companies like GE, Lockheed Martin, or Northrup Grumman could even exist with out federal projects. Where is the outrage over their misuse of federal funds? (Remember when in 1961 and then in 1985 GE executives went to jail for misbilling and lying to the Air Force?)
Where was the at least equivalent if not morally justifiable increased outrage over the loss of human life that happened because we funded Black Water? Why wasn’t Congressman Bohener asking for increased accountability when that American contractor KILLED 8 innocent Iraqis? Why hasn’t there been a Defund Blackwater Act or a Defund GE Act or a Defund Lockheed Martin Act?
The state minister for national security affairs, Shirwan al-Waili, said the government had received little information from the American side in the early days of a joint investigation of the shooting, which involved the company Blackwater USA and left at least eight Iraqis dead. But he said that the Iraqi investigation was largely completed and that he believed the findings were definitive. “The shots fired on the Iraqis were unjustifiable,” he said. “It was harsh and horrible.”
Although Mr. Waili did not spell out what the investigative committee would recommend to the criminal court, a preliminary report of findings by the Interior Ministry, the National Security Ministry and the Defense Ministry stated that “the murder of citizens in cold blood in the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians just like any other terrorist operation.”
So, let me put this into more perspective for you. More outrage resulted from two college kids, well known for outrageous Ali G like hits on liberal organizations and seemingly funded by the right wing swift boat machine than from a main stream media reports and the President of Iraq’s complaints of murder to the UN and then SOS Condi Rice. More Congressional action resulted from a kid who punk’d Planned Parenthood and put up heavily edited Youtubes than we got down here in New Orleans when local civil engineers and engineering academics discovered these bad pumps put into to protect a major U.S. city from death and destruction on a no bid contract from a crony of the sitting President’s brother? Are you seeing any patterns here? Does this outrage seem a little selective and orchestrated to you because it sure does to me. Where were Boehner, his cronies and his outrage on any of the reports the GAO churns out yearly on defense contractors? How about this one? Why aren’t we stripping all federal funding from GE?
General Electric agreed to pay a $50 million fine this past week for cooking its books.
The “errors” — that’s what GE called them, errors — made profits look better than they were at the “most admired company in America.” For a little while, and not really by very much, a great firm managed to avoid disappointing the “analysts” who watch its stock.
The offenses occurred a half-dozen years ago and officially have been corrected and atoned for. Today’s financial statements presumably are the last word in clean. Unnamed perpetrators got disciplined or fired.
Still, this happened at General Electric!
In what company can small investors and every pension and mutual fund under the sun believe if not the win-at-everything conglomerate once led by management whiz Jack Welch and, a century earlier, inventor Thomas Edison?
GE produces power plants, jet engines and medical imaging machines; televisions, windmill rotors and network news (NBC); locomotives (and there’s no one bigger at that than at Erie, Pa.), and so much else.
But the bookkeeping? Shoddy. More exactly, too clever by half.
At least so it was in the 2002-2003 period that came under Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny. A civil fraud probe — not criminal — started in 2005 and ended Tuesday in a Connecticut federal court, four long years (and $200 million in legal costs) later.
As often happens when white-collar fakery is caught, there was no formal admission of wrongdoing.
Get a grip people! You push buttons like under aged sex workers, illegals exported in from South America, and pimps and whores and the nation’s perspective on fraud perpetrated against the government just goes way out there on the limb. ACORN should be held accountable for any wrong doing, but if you’re going to get onto the high horse of fraudulent government contractors, be sure to go after the ones that still billions of dollars every year instead of obsessing on the small fry. There’s a hell of a lot of big players out there and a lot of them have been caught and set free and we’re still doing business with them. The difference? Well, it’s who they donate to come election time and don’t forget it.
I’m not defending ACORN. I’m just asking for some consistency and perspective please.