MoJo on Waste in Military Contracts

In a story today for Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein spotlights what sounds like a deficit reduction opportunity:

It was just a single contract for a single job on a single base in Iraq. The Department of Defense agreed to pay the megacontractor KBR $5 million a year to repair tactical vehicles, from Humvees to big rigs, at Joint Base Balad, a large airfield and supply center north of Baghdad. Yet according to a new Pentagon report [PDF], what the military got was as many as 144 civilian mechanics, each doing as little as 43 minutes of work a month, with virtually no oversight. The report, issued March 3 by the DOD’s inspector general, found that between late 2008 and mid-2009, KBR performed less than 7 percent of the work it was expected to do, but still got paid in full.

As Weinstein acknowledges, the $4.6 million the Pentagon inspector general says was blown on this contract is “a relatively small loss.” So it’s not a tremendous surprise that, as he wrote in a related blog post, a member of a wartime contracting commission told him he was the only journalist to read the report.

Still, he puts together a solid argument that this episode offers insight into systemic—and costly—waste in military contracts, which shows no signs of abating even as our uniformed deployment to Iraq dwindles. And with a hearing on just that very topic set for Monday, here’s hoping this story helps focus the attention of the media, and of readers, on that issue.

Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.