Sunday, March 04, 2007

Walter Reed and Privatization: The Conservative Achilles’ heel

A few years ago I discovered that I was not a pure “conservative” through and through in the modern sense of the word. I have come to believe that the Libertarian type of free market mentality is not the cure all for every problem. I have come to believe that our founding fathers understood that government does have its proper place, and that unions have been necessary to protect workers from corporate abuses, and that rampant unchecked capitalism can produce as much evil as pure Marxism.

It all began when I started looking into the loss of homeowner rights through “voluntary” membership in corporate-ruled private Homeowner Associations. When over 90% of new housing developments in the USA now have HOAs, is membership still voluntary? Do most Americans even realize what civil rights and property rights they “voluntarily” give up under corporate rule? Then I began looking into the growing phenomena of the privatization of many of our governmental functions and services. The more I looked, the more red flags I saw.

The conservative view is that less government is the best government, but when government starts contracting out functions to private enterprise it really isn’t less government. It becomes a hellish labyrinth of public-private partnership legal entanglements where the legal boundaries of, rights, duties, and responsibilities, becomes confused, enmeshed, and oversight is often lost!

Now we must deal with the horrible debacle of the criminal treatment of our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center – a case study in privatization gone horribly bad. Liberals are absolutely giddy over the fact that most conservatives are ignoring the story. If we conservatives have been ignoring this story it should be to our eternal shame!

The following is a sampling of liberal blogger articles about Walter Reed. Try to ignore the overblown hyperbolizing and focus on the real problem – privatization gone horribly bad! This is one area where liberals and conservatives should be able to agree – something must be done to curb this tendency towards privatization without proper oversight!!!

This is from The Liberal Avenger

When the Washington Post exposed the disgraceful conditions endured by maimed veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (Washington Post coverage) (Military Times coverage), most conservative commentators ignored the story. A few went so far as to say that the soldiers were just a bunch of whiners. And some tried to use the story as a club to beat up on liberals who favor universal access to health care: . . .

Also, let’s be clear about what’s to blame for the current debacle. It wasn’t overzealous regulation that led to soldier’s rooms being filled with mold and infested with mice and cockroaches. It was lack of oversight that led to those conditions. And it wasn’t government bureaucracy that led to the deterioration of the hospital staff. It was privatization.
The Pentagon gave the contract to handle operations at Walter Reed to a company called IAP Worldwide Services, and conditions at Walter Reed immediately began to go downhill. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform recently found that the decision to privatize Walter Reed led to an exodus of skilled personnel from the facility, and that IAP
failed to replace these professionals: . . .

OK, make sure you’re sitting down, because this last bit of information is going to shock you: the president and CEO of IAP Worldwide Services are both former executives of KBR, which was a subsidiary of Halliburton. . .

This is from Allen L. Rolland’s Radio Web Log

" Everyone should pay attention especially to this paragraph in the Washington Post Walter Reed expose report:

The committee also released an internal Army memorandum reportedly written in September in which the Walter Reed garrison commander, Col. Peter Garibaldi, warned Weightman that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure" because of staff shortages brought on by privatization of the support work force at the hospital. '

The privatization of patient care services is responsible for a lot of the problem here. And so is the privatization of services for US troops in Iraq punishing them. Indeed, the privatization of guard duties through the hiring of firms like Blackwater caused all that trouble at Falluja in the first place.

KRB never delivered services to US troops with the speed and efficiency they deserved. The Bush-Cheney regime rewarded civilian firms with billions while they paid US GIs a pittance to risk their lives for their country. And then when they were wounded they were sent someplace with black mold on the walls. A full investigation into the full meaning of 'privatization' at the Pentagon for our troops would uncover epochal scandals. " . . .

This is from Shelly Lewis of The Huffington Post

A key issue to be resolved is how much Rumsfeld's obsession with privatizing the military contributed to the Walter Reed scandal. Fortunately both the House and Senate are conducting hearings, beginning Monday at Walter Reed.

General Weightman is scheduled to testify before Rep. Henry Waxman's Oversight committee. It took the threat of a subpoena to make it happen, since the Army initially tried to block him from appearing, but now he will show up.

The Army Times reports the committee wants to question Weightman about the impact of the Army's decision to award a five year, 120 million dollar contract to IAP World Services, which is run by Al Neffgen, former COO of Halliburton's KBR, and David Swindle (that's really his name), also formerly of KBR. The decision to bring in private contractors at Walter Reed led to a virtual mass exodus of experienced career staffers.

Waxman's committee released a memo from Garrison commander Peter Garibaldi to Weightman which:

"describes how the Army's decision to privatize support services at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center was causing an exodus of 'highly skilled and
experienced personnel.' ... According to multiple sources, the decision to
privatize support services at Walter Reed led to a precipitous drop in support
personnel at Walter Reed."

IAP was awarded the contract under questionable circumstances in the first place, involving the Army intervening on their behalf during the bidding process. The Bush war machine, led by Rumsfeld, was determined to replace skilled government employees with less experienced, but cheaper, private workers.

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  1. As a fellow conservative, I agree/like your take on what it means to be a conservative.

    -Economically, I've never been for total free markets/free trade. Right now, something is out of whack. Bad CEOs are rewarded with hundreds of millions of dollars, but companies nickel and dime their employees to death. Even good CEOs are overpaid. Some power needs to shift back to the worker. And yes, Wal-Mart is bad.

    -Free trade is not a suicide pact. Unfortunately, some conservatives would walk off a cliff if the sign said free trade.

    -Government does do some things better than private industry. Walter Reed is obviously a case in point, but their are others. Government for instance, needs to step in and promote alternative energy sources. Why don't we have a Manhattan project to build a fusion reactor. Private industry isn't doing it.

    -Morality-I'm a cultural conservative. Government does have a roll in promoting virtue and morality.

    -Militarily, I believing in smiting one's enemies. But smiting is to be limited and judicious : )

  2. Fellow conservative in what country?

    We here in the U.S. haven't had completely free markets for quite some time. I don't know if you'd even recognize it if you saw it.

  3. Cao:

    Maybe you can explain to us just how a free market in the U.S. would work with regard to how it would better protect individual liberties against corporate domination? Or, perhaps there wouldn’t be any corporate domination, right? Say, for example, how would a free market work better for homeowners in an HOA? How would it work with regard to public-private partnerships? What went wrong with the private contracts at Walter Reed? How would a free market have improved that situation?

  4. Consider the possibility that most events we describe as failures are nothing more than failure as individuals. It is easy to find a popular target for blame within institutions or any organization rather than place the reponsibility on the individuals involved. At Walter Reed, sure a figure of authority was disciplined, but all that does is remove blame from others.

    I don't fault our form of government, world economic realities or anything but the individuals. If things are bad and you just "carry on" you fail in contributing to the solution. Someone else is always suppposed to take care of it. We all, including me, cast blame from time to time.

    The contagious act of not participating in solving problems is what causes a Walter Reed type of problem. If everyone there did their part to correct the deficiencies, this would not have happened.

    Just like Congress likes to pass bills and pat themselves on the back. The bill usually solves nothing. When enough time passes they know we will forget about it and move on. For them, problem solved. But nothing happened.

  5. I see you're looking for a conservative. Well, then it's nice to meet you. Let me be the first to tell what a conservative thinks about Walter Reed (since you're letting liberals speak for conservatives...) But first - your redux of conservatism:

    Conservatism can't be boiled down to 'less government is the best government' - something that shallow is bound to be misinterpreted by populists and liberals alike. Conservatives believe that local government is the best government. That the private sector is more efficient and responds to customers better because it relies upon the customer to survive. Conservatives understand that the nature of man promises instances of tragedy and heartbreak. Conservatives recognize that bad things will happen to good people sometimes, and we must guard against that, but the worst thing you can do is to demand government fix the problem. Government doesn't solve problems ( can you think of one they've solved?), it exploits them as fuel for more intrusion into private business. And, as a conservative yourself, you understand that any attack on the free market is an attack, ultimately, at the foundations of our personal liberties. That is why communist countries can't have free markets - centralized control cannot allow individual choice. Ask the Russians and the Chinese. Are their soldiers taken care of better than America soldiers? Hardly.

    Liberals are spinning the Walter Reed scandal not because they care for the soldiers, it is because health care is their issue. Can't you see the trend the left has taken over the last 12 years? Health over freedom. That is why we have second hand smoke laws curbing private property rights.
    Underage abortions without parental consent. Euthaniasia without patient or family consent. If liberals showed half the outrage at Islamic extremism that they show at substandard medical care, this country would be talking about 'victory' in Iraq, not starving our generals of the tools they need to win. Liberals are prostituting the horrendous conditions at Walter Reed because they see an opportunity to use this instance to slander Republicans, and indirectly, privatisation - and you're helping them do that. Poor show.

    Conservatives, Republicans, Americans - we all abhor the news about Walter Reed - but one cannot fault solely a party or a president, free markets or privatization - that would be like blaming the NFL for violence because one of their players killed someone. Conservatives weep for the insult done to our bravest, but we don't need to stand on street corners or write long winded exhortations on it. Conservatives don't wear their disappointment of fellow man on their sleeves, and we certainly don't prostitute it for political gain. We will rectify the situation, Dems will hold hearings and do nothing.

    You seem a decent fellow. The crowd you're hanging out with is unworthy of thoughtful commiseration on this sad episode...

  6. It saddens me to learn that there are some so called “conservatives’ that are so blind or so ill informed that they become as guilty as most liberals of making myopic and one-sided reactions. You wrote, “Government doesn't solve problems (can you think of one they've solved?)” Yes, my friend, I can. I can think of several. Primarily it is our government which has provided each of us our civil rights – our freedoms of speech – NOT PRIVATE ENTERPRISE. The first time you decide to fly a U.S. flag in your private corporation HOA and get slapped with a hefty fine, come talk to me again! The next time you decide to wear a piece of religious jewelry at work and are told to remove it or lose your job, come talk to me again.

    Few people have even looked into the situation of corporate rule enough to know that there is no protection of our precious civil rights under corporate law. When government contracts out more and more services to private corporations the law gets very hazy and ultimately most courts in the U.S. tend to give corporations a very wide latitude. As conservatives we must guard our freedoms. As conservatives we must understand that unchecked capitalism can produce as much evil as pure Marxism. As conservatives we cannot become unbalanced reactionaries – leave that to the liberals. And as conservatives we must have the good sense to recognize that sometimes even liberals can make sense regardless of how they are trying to exploit the situation!

  7. Your comment: "You wrote, “Government doesn't solve problems (can you think of one they've solved?)” Yes, my friend, I can. I can think of several. Primarily it is our government which has provided each of us our civil rights – our freedoms of speech – NOT PRIVATE ENTERPRISE."

    Huh? Government solved civil rights? DAAAHH !(screaming ) Government doesn't provide us our rights - God does! If you see our rights as created by man, for man, then man can take them away! This is basic conservative philosophy! Our Declaration says so: " that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." Do you see that part that says that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights? No sir, government didn't solve civil rights, it fashioned laws protecting them. The civil rights legislation, while poorly written and prone to abuse by the left ( affirmative action, etc. ) is a restatement of geovernment's responsibility to protect our rights.

    You fear business, I understand that. Since there is no such thing as "unchecked capitalism" in America, nor are corporations responsible for "protection of our precious civil rights" it is up to us to make sure our government defends our freedoms from the rapacious appetite of government and business. Your idea that anyone who disagrees with you as an unbalanced reactionary is specious - I probably harbor as much skepticism toward big business as you, but it doesn't drive me to make categorical statements about the 'evils' of the free market. We are citizen soldiers, representatives of freedom, and across human history we are rare and we are few. That is why we cannot afford to take a grenade to a problem that needs only a swift kick.

    By the way - my HOA shudders when I walk into the Wednesday meetings. I know the law and I am jealous of my freedoms, so they know they will get a cry of outrage from me everytime they decide they want to bully a homeowner. My five minute speeches have my neighbors thinking I'm some kind of Thomas Paine, they crowd around me with shy smiles - but I'm not, I'm only doing what every American ought to - reminding those in power 'Do not tread on me!'

    I'm not're not focused! Focus that populist anger in the right direction and your liberal friends will respect you and America will learn from you. That's a legacy we can all be proud of...

  8. evrviglnt:
    Since you devoted your Political Vindication blog to my article and to your responses to it today, I left my comment below on your moderated comments. Here they are just in case they don't pass your moderation muster.

    First, thank you for linking to Faultline USA and for providing your take on my article. Frankly, I don’t believe that we are that far apart in our views – just in our responses to any mention that liberals might just possibly have a wee little point or two every blue moon. Please try to take the article for what it was. Didn’t you notice that I did warn folks. “Try to ignore the overblown hyperbolizing and focus on the real problem – privatization gone horribly bad!”

    Your last comment on my page spells out the problem exactly. You wrote:

    “By the way - my HOA shudders when I walk into the Wednesday meetings. I know the law and I am jealous of my freedoms, so they know they will get a cry of outrage from me everytime they decide they want to bully a homeowner. My five minute speeches have my neighbors thinking I'm some kind of Thomas Paine, they crowd around me with shy smiles - but I'm not, I'm only doing what every American ought to - reminding those in power 'Do not tread on me!'”

    Isn’t it a shame that you have to resort to bullying your private corporation HOA into following the law just because you willingly gave up your property rights to a private corporation HOA when you moved in??? But, then again, did you have any choice when 90% of new development in the USA has gone the privatization route???

    Thanks for making my point!

    Faultline USA

  9. If you are going to comment on something as wonky as A-76 studies and inherrently governmental operations, you should do more research about the Walter Reed privitization.

    The problems were not caused by the contractor but by the collapse of the public sector while the contract award was being contested.

    IAP, not Halliburton, was award the contract in Feb 06 because the civil servants who also bid on the contract were late with their submission and left out parts of the services required. Those civil servants left out parts so that they could be the low bidder.

    After the award, the civil servants contested the big. The review took a year. During the review, many of the civil servants left for other jobs but were not replaced.

    From what I have read, IAP did not take over base operations until February 2007.

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