Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ralph Peters gets it about as wrong is it can be got

Ralph Peters writes in the New York Post:

October 6, 2007 -- THE problems with military outsourcing go far beyond last month's massacre of civilians by Blackwater USA's hired guns: Wartime profiteers are bleeding our military.

Astonishingly, contractors are free to approach those in uniform, offer them generous salaries to leave their service in wartime, then profit from the skills your tax dollars taught them.

This isn't just about Navy SEALS or other special operators. In intelligence, for example, we train young soldiers for complex missions and expensively process their security clearances - then contractors bribe them to leave the military, raking in big bucks from your investment in their new employee.

Maybe we could look the other way in peacetime. But we're fighting multiple wars. Would we have allowed contractors to hire away some of the most highly skilled men and women in uniform during World War II? (Of course, most lawmakers really were patriots then . . .)

It's fundamentally wrong to let contractors go head-hunting among our troops in wartime. Those in government who've elevated outsourcing to a state religion pretend it helps our war effort - with the whopper that outsourcing military functions saves taxpayer dollars.

Exactly how does that one work? You get stuck with the training and security-clearance costs; the soldier lured to the private sector gets his salary doubled or tripled - then the contractor adds in a markup for his multiple layers of overhead costs and a generous profit margin, and bills the taxpayers. How is that cheaper than having soldiers do the job?

The scam-artists tell us that using contractors saves money in the long run, since their employees don't get military health care and retirement benefits. But the numbers just don't add up.

Contractors are looting our military - while wrapping themselves in the flag.

Thankfully, the finest soldiers and Marines aren't in it for the money. But we're still losing personnel with vital in-demand skills.

Here's how one disgusted special-ops veteran puts it:

"I got tired of old SF buddies handing me their business cards as I exited the dining facility in Iraq [and] asking me to come over and work for them. I'll go teach high school English in the inner city first."

In a follow-up message, this veteran - who's sticking by the colors - wrote:

"The saddest thing I see in those 'flesh peddlers' is the part of the conversation when they admit that they really miss the unit and the people in it. A true warrior isn't in it for the money, but, rather, for those things that money can never buy: mutual respect, camaraderie and the self-worth that comes with it.

"Every one of my contractor 'buddies' eventually breaks down and admits these things to me. Unfortunately, they can also pick up on a malcontent quickly, therefore acquiring the 'easy sale.' "

The disgraceful cycle works like this: Contractors hire away military talent. The military finds itself short of skilled workers, so contractors get more contracts. With more money, they hire away more uniformed talent.

Here's what we need to do to right a wrong that borders on treason:

* Congress must defy its campaign contributors and criminalize attempts to hire those in uniform away from their service during periods of war and conflict.

* If a service member put in a full 20 years or more and retired, he or she should be free to take a job with any law-abiding firm. But any soldier short of 20 who accepts specialized training and a security clearance at government expense should have to wait two years after his or her discharge before moving to a related private-sector position.

* Defense contractors who hire young veterans with advanced skills or security clearances should have to reimburse the government 50 percent of their training and background investigation costs.

The current system is intolerable. The problem, of course, is Congress. Although the Hill is half-way to approving stateside prosecutions for criminal conduct by government contractors abroad, your representatives only did so because they were caught out by the Blackwater scandal.

The truth is that most members of Congress, Republican or Democrat, will favor a contractor who pays in campaign contributions over soldiers who pay with their lives.

We saw classic congressional behavior last week, when Blackwater founder Erik Prince testified on the Hill and set a new standard for smugness. A solid Republican phalanx defended a major contributor. The Dems, who failed to do their homework on the issues, looked stupidly partisan themselves - just harassing a GOP donor.

And Prince got away with his shameless claims that he and his trigger-happy thugs are true-blue patriots. If so, why hire talent away from our military in wartime? Why give heavy weapons to under-supervised "malcontents," endangering our battlefield progress?

And if the independently wealthy Prince is so patriotic, why not provide Blackwater's services to the government on a no-profit basis?

Well, Blackwater ain't no red-white-and-blue charity, and Prince isn't one of FDR'S dollar-a-year men. The company lacked serious credentials when it landed its first security contract - and one suspects it would never have been hired if not for Prince's campaign contributions and political connections.

People like Erik Prince aren't patriots. They're vampires sucking the blood of our troops - war profiteers growing rich while soldiers die.

As I warned in these pages several years ago, we didn't just outsource services in Iraq. We outsourced our nation's honor.

There is so much wrong with this it is hard to figure out where to start. It is helpful to be reminded every now and then that however much we respect the military and however much me stand in awe of their heroism, sacrifice and dedication they are, at the end of the day, government employees who inevitably must share some of the same blind spots and prejudices as any other set of government bureaucrats.

Mr. Peters contention that the contractors are somehow stealing from the government by hiring away people who have gained training and experience at taxpayer's expense is wrong. First of all, one of the inducements we use to convince young men and women to join up in the first place is the fact that their training and experience will give them marketable skills in the civilian world. Are we to now take that away from them by telling them that they either have to serve a full 20 years or else wait 2 years before using their skills (a long enough wait that their training will be out of date)?

His statement that contractors would not have been able to hire servicemen away from the military during WWII is a non sequitur. WWII was a total war in which a man joined or was drafted for the duration of the conflict.

If a soldier (or airman, sailor or Marine) who receives specialized training really does owe the government 20 years of service in exchange for that training then why isn't a 20 year term of enlistment required for anyone taking that training. Except that Mr. Peters doesn't seem to have a problem with men leaving the military to work on farms or in factories, it's just civilian contractors like Blackwater the he hates.

Could what is going on in Mr. Peters head be something similar to the resentment that so many police have at civilians being legally able to carry guns? Is he just pissed off that outsiders are invading "his" turf?

Another thing, why does Mr. Peters mind contractors like Blackwater weeding out the "malcontents"? I've known a few people who served in Special Forces and one of the things they liked about the elite forces was the fact that everybody they were working with was a highly motivated volunteer who had worked hard to be there and wanted to be there more than anything else. I don't know a single veteran of the Special Forces who would have wanted to go into combat with a "malcontent". Ralph should be grateful that someone is giving them a reason to leave the service, not whinging about it.

Contractors having to reimburse the government for 50% of the cost of a soldier's training and background checks is an idea that is so stupid that I would have thought that it could have only come from a Democrat. This illustrates what I meant about the military being a giant government bureaucracy and having the same blind spots. Businesses do not pay taxes or their own operating costs. They pass those costs along to their customers. All Mr. Peters is really asking the contractors to do is take some money out of their bank account and give it to the government then all a little larger amount (for administrative overhead) to the next bill they hand the government for their services. All Mr. Peters would achieve is the illusion that the government had recovered some of its costs. Like I said, an idea worthy of a Democrat.

Peters should come clean and admit that as someone who spent most of his adult life cashing a government paycheck he doesn't really understand or like the private sector and he certainly doesn't trust it. He should also admit that what he really wants is a return to the draft so that young men could be forced to serve until they were no longer needed.

This is a great illustration of why career military men have always made very poor presidents.

Also, I am not aware that the "Blackwater scandal" is really all that much of a scandal. I know that Blackwater contractors are more "trigger happy" than the military, but I also know that the military is constantly bitching that the rules of engagement are far too restrictive. So which is it?