Erik Prince, chairman of Blackwater, the private security firm accused of killing some innocent Iraqis and being responsible for more shootings and killings than the other two security firms operating in Iraq put together, defended his company before Rep. Henry Waxman's committee today. I'm not ready to pass judgment yet, although it does appear that there's a lot of cronyism in the contracting game, whichhas always been the case and is endemic to government contracting-out in al most all areas.
I'm reading the book, "Blackwater," by Jeremy Scahill, but not far enough into it yet to form a solid judgment. It's published by the Nation and its jargon can be annoying -- every conservative intiative or outfit is "far right" or "extreme" -- but the reporting appears to be solid. I didn't know just how political Prince's family has been for generations, all on behalf of Republicans and the religious right (though the author defines it too broadly). They're close, and tied by marriage, to the DeVos family (Amway) in Michigan. I'll report more when I know more.
I'm not philosophically opposed to contracting-out services, even military services, to private companies, but it's more than possible that the process has been handled poorly. First, there's the fact that politics always plays a role in government contracting, so bang-for-the-buck sometimes takes a back seat. Second, these operations have been ramped up so quickly -- Blackwater was formed in 1997 and got its financial/operational adrenaline shot after 9/11 -- that there are bound to have been mistakes and miscalculations along the way.
The very concept of contracting-out -- begun in a big way with behind-the-lines services like mess halls, barracks management, supplies and the like when the military downsized modestly after the end of the Cold War -- is pretty new. I don't know if the inevitable pitfalls (and the fact that most private companies can outsmart a government procurement officer in a heartbeat) have been properly assessed, let alone corrected. Contracting-out should cost less than having government personnel perform the task in question, and I don't think that's been the case in Iraq. Perhaps hearings like these will help if they're not too partisan. But it would be better to mend it not end it. I think.
It would be even better, of course, not to get into misbegotten wars without thinking through the possible consequences and reverberations, and with fewer troops than needed to accomplish undefined but always growing and increasingly complicated tasks.