Manchin, Iraq reconstruction IG decry wasteful military spending
The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal inspector general joined Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Wednesday to complain about waste in military spending — specifically, the number of private contractors being employed by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr.'s position was created in October 2004. Since then, Bowen has overseen and audited the use, and possible misuse, of the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund created to rehabilitate Iraq's economy.
On Wednesday, Bowen and Manchin focused on the growing number of private military contractors hired by the Pentagon.
Today, there are more than 113,000 private contractors in Afghanistan, while there are only 90,000 troops, Manchin said.
"For Iraq, we can't get accurate numbers. But there are between 20,000 and 30,000 contractors still in Iraq," Manchin said.
Bowen said, "The Department of Defense has never seen a complete audit of its contractors. They say it is impossible to do. That is unacceptable.
"The United States needs to seriously address how we approach these types of [stabilizing] operations," Bowen said. "Our accountability is weak. That itself is a problem. We don't even know how many [contractors] there are."
Wednesday's event took place at the West Virginia Air National Guard's Tire Rebuild Plant in Kanawha City. By reprocessing tires, the Kanawha City facility alone saves $27 million a year in military costs, according to the Guard.
Manchin praised the effectiveness of the West Virginia National Guard, calling it "the high watermark for Guard units around the country."
Guard members across the country are effective and have relatively low operating costs, he said, contrasting their work and effectiveness to the Defense Department's growing use of private military contractors.
"Not only can the National Guard perform a wide variety of roles in national defense, homeland security and disaster relief, but the National Guard is truly one of the most efficient and effective organizations in our government," he said.
Private military contractors typically get paid multiple times what Americans serving in the military earn, Manchin said
"The United States can pay contractors up to $763,000 annually," he said. "That is two times what the president makes and four times what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make.
Manchin said it "was a sobering moment" for him when Admiral Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said back in 2010, "I think the biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt."
"Our country is facing a fiscal crisis today," Manchin said. "It is huge."
Stronger oversight over private military contracting can save up to $50 billion a year, Manchin said.
"But we are running into tremendous resistance, because it [contracting] is such a big business.
Manchin said the ratio of soldiers to private contractors was 24-1 in World War I, 7-1 in World War II and 5-1 in Vietnam. Today that ratio is 1-1.