The mess at Walter Reed Hospital, coming on top of the twin quagmires of New Orleans and Iraq, brings to mind Ronald Reagan's oft-quoted quip that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." The so-called conservatives, those in power who have brought this nation to its knees, still seem to think this is a great laugh line, right up there with Ann Coulter's homophobic slam- dunk of John Edwards.
What these ideologues would have us believe is that the government is nothing more than a bunch of bungling bureaucrats, eager to interfere in your business (that's bidness, as the late Molly Ivins would say, as in energy, lumber, insurance, pharmaceuticals, etc.) and that the solution is privatize, privatize, privatize.
Everyone knows that the government can bloat up faster than a dead carp on a hot beach, and there's a reason people resent its regulations and cumbersome red tape. But a big country requires something big to keep it all humming along, whether it's big government or big business -- or maybe big religion, which the Constitution prohibits. (But that's little deterrent with the Gonzales gang.)
This administration has chosen the bidness model as a way to shrink government and strip out the fat. (And if you're not laughing you're not paying attention.) It's true that if you wring the profits out of the hides of your workers you can run your company on the cheap -- until catastrophe strikes and you have only a skeletal work force of untrained low-paid workers. Think Jet Blue sitting on the tarmac. Think Katrina, and Walter Reed. And Iraq.
The underlying premise in the business model is that competition will keep costs down. But this administration and its Congressional FOB's (Friends of Bidness) have eliminated most of the competition, citing expediency in the face of crisis. They've doled out billion dollar no-bid contracts to their cronies, with little, if any, government oversight, resulting in over-charging, fraud and enormous boondoggles, like the post-Katrina ice-trucks idling in parking lots, not far from the molding trailers in Hope, Arkansas.
In keeping with their scorn for government, the Bushies have appointed under-qualified third stringers to key roles, like Heckuva-Job-Brownie at FEMA, and former chair of the RNC and Ambassador to the Vatican, Jim Nicholson, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Although they both start with V, looking out for the Vatican does not qualify you to look out for our veterans.
So it's no surprise that part of the meltdown at Walter Reed can be attributed to outsourcing of jobs to private contractors, and that one of the contractors is Florida-based IAP Worldwide Services, headed by former Halliburton executive Al Neffgen. Neffgen was previously employed as the chief operating officer for KBR Government Operations, the subsidiary of Halliburton that handled the company's military contracts in Iraq as well as the ice trucks to nowhere.
After IAP took over at Walter Reed, the number of federal employees dropped from 300 to 60, and Neffgen eventually replaced those 60 workers with 50 IAP Worldwide workers. A September 2006 memo, signed by a deputy to the medical center's commander, described concerns about the loss of "highly skilled and experienced personnel" at Walter Reed and the center's increased workload. But until the WaPo got on it, no one paid no nevermind.
At least the Jet Blue passengers got an apology from their CEO for the time they lost on the tarmac or camped out in airports due to the mismanagement of the company. But those who have lost their homes, their limbs, or their lives, due to the mismanagement of this country, are still waiting.
After dealing with the dead-end frustration of companies like IAP, those nine words, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help," would probably sound mighty sweet to the survivors of Katrina and the wounded veterans of this senseless war.