Thursday, June 9, 2011

Outsourcing the Drug War

The problem isn’t oversight or outsourcing. The central problem in U.S. counternarcotics funding and programming is the federal government’s continuing commitment to drug prohibition.

In her capacity as chairman of  the Contracting Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) deserves much credit for her dogged efforts to increase the oversight of the federal outsourcing to private contractors. Recently McCaskill has spearheaded the ad hoc subcommittee’s review of the proliferation of counternarcotics contracting by the State Department and the Defense Department.

Los Angeles Times story (June 9) titled U.S. can't justify its drug war spending, reports say” highlighted McCaskill’s work on this issue.

The story came in the wake of a May 20 subcommittee hearing on “Counternarcotics Contracting in Latin America” and two government reports on counternarcotics contracting (one by the subcommittee and the other by the U.S. Government Accountability Office).
At the hearing McCaskill criticized the lack of transparency and oversight in the billions of dollars of outsourcing of counternarcotics work in the region. The Missouri senator underscored the massive federal funding for the drug war in Latin America and the increasing role of some of the country’s leading defense contractors:

The U.S. government has been involved in counternarcotics activities in Latin America for more than 30 years. From 2000 to 2008, the bulk of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Latin America was through Plan Colombia, a multi-year assistance package targeting Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. In the last two years, the Mérida Initiative, which focuses on assistance to Mexico, has also increased in importance. Over the last decade, the United States has spent billions of dollars on counternarcotics activities in the region. The President has asked for an additional $6 billion for international counternarcotics and drug interdiction in 2011. 

I understand that much of this money is currently being spent under contracts with companies like DynCorp and Lockheed Martin. Contractors help spray the drugs under cultivation, work in government ministries, help support the local Army and police, and maintain the bases where American troops live and work in Latin America.  

Their efforts are crucial to the success of the United States’ mission in Latin America...

McCaskill’s subcommittee on June 7 released a report titled New Information about Counternarcotics Contracting in Latin America that sketched the extent of such contracting by State and DOD. The report included the following findings that should contribute to the mounting criticism of the federal government’s support for drug prohibition and drug wars home and abroad:

·        * The analysis finds that from 2005 to 2009, the federal government’s annual spending on counternarcotics contracts in Latin America rose by 32%, from $482 million in 2005 to $635.8 million in 2009.  In total, the government spent more than $3.1 billion on counternarcotics contracts during this period.

·        * From 2005 to 2009, the majority of counternarcotics contracts in Latin America went to only five contractors: DynCorp, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT, and ARINC, who collectively received contracts worth over $1.8 billion.

·       *  Neither the State Department nor the Defense Department has adequate systems in place to track counternarcotics contract data. 

·       *  The Department of Defense spent more than $1.2 billion on counternarcotics contracts in Latin America during this period.  Defense Department contracts for counternarcotics activities rose from $170.9 million in 2005 to $293.3 million in 2009, representing a 72% increase in contract spending.

·        * While spending on counternarcotics contracts increased by 32% over the five year period under review, contract management and oversight has been insufficient, and has not kept pace with the government’s increased reliance on contractors.

·       *  The federal government does not have any uniform systems in place to track or evaluate whether counternarcotics contracts are achieving their goals.

Over the past several years McCaskill has made a compelling case that better oversight of federal government outsourcing is needed. With respect to counternarcotics contracting, her subcommittee points, for example, to government’s continued use of no-bid contracts to Native Alaskan Corporations and other firms that lack oversight and accountability. The report observed:

Another example of the government’s reliance on noncompetitive contracts is its award of contracts to Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs).  From 2005 to 2009, the State Department awarded one ANC, Olgoonik, contracts worth nearly $37 million for meal services in Bolivia and “personnel support services” in Colombia.  As an ANC participating in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program for small and disadvantaged businesses, Olgoonik was eligible to receive sole-source contracts of unlimited value without justification or approval during this time period.
 Other ANCs that received noncompetitive counternarcotics contracts from the federal government during this time period include Alutiiq, which received over $8.8 million from the State and Defense Departments for security guard and “personnel support” services, among other services, and Chugach McKinley, Inc., which received $6.4 million from the Defense Department for engineering and software support activity.
Typically, the ANCs serve as fronts for major defense and other federal contractors like Lockheed Martin, which are the hidden partners in these outsourcing deals. (See Border Lines series on ANCs in Homeland Security contracting: herehere, and here.)

At the May 20 subcommittee hearing, McCaskill said: “Oversight is essential to ensure that these contracts are as effective, efficient, and accountable as possible, and that the taxpayers’ money isn’t being wasted.”

The fundamental problem, however with counternarcotics operation isn’t waste or the lack of transparency, oversight, and accountability. 

Promised new accounting and oversight reforms by DOD and State don’t address the fact that U.S. counternarcotics funding hasn’t reduced U.S. drug consumption. Nor has it reduced global drug production. If McCaskill is concerned that taxpayer money is being wasted, then she should add her voice to the rising chorus of activists and public officials saying it’s time to end drug prohibition and the related drug wars in Latin America. 

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