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One Nation Under Contract–Six Questions for Allison Stanger by Scott Horton

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Jefferson23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 09:47 AM
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One Nation Under Contract–Six Questions for Allison Stanger by Scott Horton
April 22, 2011


Under Ronald Reagan and each of the presidents who followed him, America went on a privatization rampage. At some point, the privatization turned increasingly to core governmental functions: railroads and post offices were followed by a privatization of military security functions and even foreign policy. In One Nation Under Contract, Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger takes a close look at the outsourcing of national security and foreign policy functions in the last decade. I put six questions to Stanger about her new book:


1. You track the growing dependence of the federal government on contractors–from a little more than $200 billion in 2000 to about $440 billion in 2007. What shifts in policy account for this explosive growth in the use of contractors?

The main factor was the privatization of war. Iraq and Afghanistan are America’s first contractors’ wars, with contractors often outnumbering uniformed personnel on the ground in both conflicts. This development is new and unprecedented. At the height of the Vietnam War, contractors represented just 14 percent of the American presence on the ground. Without contractors, we would need a draft to wage these two wars, and with a draft, we would obviously have a very different political situation.

While wartime contracting and successive supplemental appropriations have fueled these dramatic trends, this is not a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike embraced outsourcing the work of government to the private sector whenever possible, both as a perceived cost-savings measure and as a mechanism for getting things done more efficiently. But the unprecedented explosion of contracting—to use Defense Secretary Gates’s language, “willy-nilly” contracting—to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan was a tale of unprecedented waste, fraud, and abuse (PDF). Taxpayer money obviously cannot be well spent when government is not following the money.

2. Your numbers end during the Bush years–can you carry them forward to the Obama Administration? What difference has Barack Obama made to this process?

remainder in full: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2011/04/hbc-90008063
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Jefferson23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 04:16 PM
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1. What difference has Barack Obama made to this process?
The trends mapped in the book have continued unabated under the Obama Administration, and in many ways our dependence on contractors has grown. When the State Department replaces the U.S. military in Iraq, they will be wholly reliant on contractors to pursue the mission. To make matters worse, Congress is currently poised to slash funding for open government initiatives from $35 million to $8 million on President Obama’s watch. If the proposed cuts go through, it would likely close the web site, USASpending.gov that made my book possible (I used it to follow the money). The huge irony here is that as a senator Obama championed the legislation (the 2006 Federal Funding Transparency and Accountability Act, or FFATA) that brought USAspending.gov into being and as a candidate promised a new era of openness in government.

I am a Vermont-based professor without a security clearance. One Nation Under Contract could not have been written without USAspending.gov. USAspending.gov data, for example, showed that in 2000, the Department of Defense spent $133.2 billion on contracts and by 2008, that figure had grown to $391.9 billion, an almost three-fold increase. From 2000-2008, State Department spending on contracting increased by 431 percent. In that same period of time, contracting at USAID grew a whopping 690 percent.

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