Monday, February 23, 2009

How government supplies the military

Here's a piece by the great Walter Pincus of the WaPo, for my money one of the great reporters of our era, an old-fashioned digger who assumes as a default position that the official story is not the whole story and does what all too few reporters do -- dig to get at the real story. We all think we do that, but Walter has been doing it for decades. I was first impressed with him when I was living in Washington in the 1970s and from the content of the few stories he did revolving around Watergate and its aftermath concluded he was a better reporter than either Woodward or Bernstein. He's now digging into obscure documents and programs on a regular basis, uncovering wondrous waste.

This one is about a jeeplike vehicle called the Growler, which the the Marines decided they wanted (to go with the V-22 Osprey, which may or may not be a smart thing to acquire but that's another story) back in 1999. It took 10 years to come up with two different vehicles when the Marines wanted one to perform two functions (supporting assault operations and towing a 120 mm mortar) -- and the price has doubled. The original contract was for a cost of $94,000 but now it's $209,000, and the one to haul a mortar has grown from $579,000 to $1,078,000. And the resulting vehicle isn't really appropriate for a theater like Iraq!

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the story is that "cost increases and delays are so normal in defense contracting, particularly in contracts involving hundreds of millions of dollars, that they don'ty raise great concerns." I learned this many years ago when my father, a chemist, worked for a defense contractor (which financed a National Merit Scholarship for me, so it had good points) and had horror stories galore to tell. And we're going to let this institution run increasing aspects of our lives after it's screwed up the economy royally?

The last time I was in Washington I made it a point to call Walter Pincus and ask him if I could buy him lunch and pick his brain. He wouldn't let me buy, but we did have lunch and it's one of my most cherished memories.

No comments: