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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Walter Reed and Privatization: The Conservative Achilles’ heel

Originally posted at Faultline USA

A few years ago I discovered that I was not a pure “conservative” through and through in the modern sense of the word. I have come to believe that the Libertarian type of free market mentality is not the cure all for every problem. I have come to believe that our founding fathers understood that government does have its proper place, and that unions have been necessary to protect workers from corporate abuses, and that rampant unchecked capitalism can produce as much evil as pure Marxism.

It all began when I started looking into the loss of homeowner rights through “voluntary” membership in corporate-ruled private Homeowner Associations. When over 90% of new housing developments in the USA now have HOAs, is membership still voluntary? Do most Americans even realize what civil rights and property rights they “voluntarily” give up under corporate rule? Then I began looking into the growing phenomena of the privatization of many of our governmental functions and services. The more I looked, the more red flags I saw.

The conservative view is that less government is the best government, but when government starts contracting out functions to private enterprise it really isn’t less government. It becomes a hellish labyrinth of public-private partnership legal entanglements where the legal boundaries of, rights, duties, and responsibilities, becomes confused, enmeshed, and oversight is often lost!

Now we must deal with the horrible debacle of the criminal treatment of our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center – a case study in privatization gone horribly bad. Liberals are absolutely giddy over the fact that most conservatives are ignoring the story. If we conservatives have been ignoring this story it should be to our eternal shame!

The following is a sampling of liberal blogger articles about Walter Reed. Try to ignore the overblown hyperbolizing and focus on the real problem – privatization gone horribly bad! This is one area where liberals and conservatives should be able to agree – something must be done to curb this tendency towards privatization without proper oversight!!!

This is from The Liberal Avenger

When the Washington Post exposed the disgraceful conditions endured by maimed veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (Washington Post coverage) (Military Times coverage), most conservative commentators ignored the story. A few went so far as to say that the soldiers were just a bunch of whiners. And some tried to use the story as a club to beat up on liberals who favor universal access to health care: . . .

Also, let’s be clear about what’s to blame for the current debacle. It wasn’t overzealous regulation that led to soldier’s rooms being filled with mold and infested with mice and cockroaches. It was lack of oversight that led to those conditions. And it wasn’t government bureaucracy that led to the deterioration of the hospital staff. It was privatization.

The Pentagon gave the contract to handle operations at Walter Reed to a company called IAP Worldwide Services, and conditions at Walter Reed immediately began to go downhill. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform recently found that the decision to privatize Walter Reed led to an exodus of skilled personnel from the facility, and that IAP failed to replace these professionals: . . .

OK, make sure you’re sitting down, because this last bit of information is going to shock you: the president and CEO of IAP Worldwide Services are both former executives of KBR, which was a subsidiary of Halliburton. . .

This is from Allen L. Rolland’s Radio Web Log

" Everyone should pay attention especially to this paragraph in the Washington Post Walter Reed expose report:

The committee also released an internal Army memorandum reportedly written in September in which the Walter Reed garrison commander, Col. Peter Garibaldi, warned Weightman that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure" because of staff shortages brought on by privatization of the support work force at the hospital. '

The privatization of patient care services is responsible for a lot of the problem here. And so is the privatization of services for US troops in Iraq punishing them. Indeed, the privatization of guard duties through the hiring of firms like Blackwater caused all that trouble at Falluja in the first place.

KRB never delivered services to US troops with the speed and efficiency they deserved. The Bush-Cheney regime rewarded civilian firms with billions while they paid US GIs a pittance to risk their lives for their country. And then when they were wounded they were sent someplace with black mold on the walls. A full investigation into the full meaning of 'privatization' at the Pentagon for our troops would uncover epochal scandals. "

This is from Shelly Lewis of The Huffington Post

A key issue to be resolved is how much Rumsfeld's obsession with privatizing the military contributed to the Walter Reed scandal. Fortunately both the House and Senate are conducting hearings, beginning Monday at Walter Reed.

General Weightman is scheduled to testify before Rep. Henry Waxman's Oversight committee. It took the threat of a subpoena to make it happen, since the Army initially tried to block him from appearing, but now he will show up.

The Army Times reports the committee wants to question Weightman about the impact of the Army's decision to award a five year, 120 million dollar contract to IAP World Services, which is run by Al Neffgen, former COO of Halliburton's KBR, and David Swindle (that's really his name), also formerly of KBR. The decision to bring in private contractors at Walter Reed led to a virtual mass exodus of experienced career staffers.

Waxman's committee released a memo from Garrison commander Peter Garibaldi to Weightman which:

"describes how the Army's decision to privatize support services at
Walter Reed Army Medical Center was causing an exodus of 'highly skilled and
experienced personnel.' ... According to multiple sources, the decision to
privatize support services at Walter Reed led to a precipitous drop in support
personnel at Walter Reed."

IAP was awarded the contract under questionable circumstances in the first place, involving the Army intervening on their behalf during the bidding process. The Bush war machine, led by Rumsfeld, was determined to replace skilled government employees with less experienced, but cheaper, private workers. . .