Who’s Watching the Henhouse?

hen house, corruption in politicsby Mark Kneubuhl –

(May 23, 2012)  The U.S. budget is a hot and heavily debated topic in Washington. But while both parties believe it needs to be cut, the largest piece of the pie –the defense budget continues to increase, even beyond what top military brass are requesting.

Why? Peter Schweizer gives his opinion in an article posted yesterday in the Daily Beast:

An audit last year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that management failures at the Department of Defense led to $70 billion of waste over just a two-year period. Another GAO report from 2010 found that the Defense Logistics Agency, which acquires military equipment, was ordering 50 percent more equipment than it needed, and $7 billion worth of supplies were sitting in a warehouse.

Another one of the problems, as the article points out is that the military bases, which are no longer necessary, are virtually impossible to close.  Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee threw out a plan for base closings by more than a 2 to 1 vote.

And then the same committee approved an amendment to force the Defense Department to continue planning and building of a controversial multi-billion dollar nuclear weapons facility in New Mexico.  Before that, the committee added a measure to require the Pentagon to build an antiballistic missile battery on the East Coast.  Neither the Pentagon nor other top military brass requested the funding.

But government waste is nothing new and almost expected as a matter of due process. Political business savvy is also a myth where it concerns Taxpayer’s bang for their buck. So why is it that politician can’t cut military spending? And even more of a riddle, why do they continue to increase it?

According to Schweizer:

…members of Congress making these decisions have family members who serve as lobbyists for defense contractors. Congressman Bill Young (R-Fla.) is the chairman of the powerful appropriation subcommittee on the House Armed Services Committee. His daughter serves as a lobbyist for defense contractors and in the past Young has steered money to contractors that employed his sons.

Members of Congress who sit on these committees can and often do own defense stocks. The Washington Post found in 2010 that 19 of the 28 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee held investments in military- and defense-related companies that did big business with the Pentagon.

Who’s watching the Hen House?

Both the Senate and the House of Representative have their respective Ethic Committees, which review allegations of misconduct against members. Both are made up an equal number of members from both sides of the aisle, but nevertheless, they still are members of the institutions that they are policing. Bipartisan, yes… independent, no!

Until 2008, both the Senate and the House were regularly criticized, citing the absurdity of the self-policing oversight.

Evidence of the ineffectiveness of such committees was apparent in the investigation of Tom Delay and his relationship with infamous lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.  Abramoff went to jail while the subject of DeLay’s involvement became a political football within the committee, ending in a stalemate with no action taken.

In addition to the House-controlled Ethics Committee, in 2008, The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), was established as an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against members of the House.

The OCE requires reauthorization at the beginning of each new Congress and while there have been numerous calls to eliminate the office from both Republicans and Democrats; it remains open for business today.

Since 2008, the office has reviewed dozens of cases, including another look at the connection between Abramoff and DeLay.

The committee was also responsible for 11 charges of misconduct by Charles Rangel and recommended that he be censured. Although the censuring of a member is nothing more than a bad scolding, it is the congressional equivalent of capital punishment (no pun intended), often resulting in political death.

The Senate has successfully resisted the idea of an additional and independent ethics committee.

Unethical, maybe… but absolutely legal

The problem with reducing the Defense budget seems to be aggravated by the double standards that both houses of congress live by.  The ethics committee rules, that they themselves regulate allow them to hold stocks in business and industries that they oversea.  They can also vote on legislation that promotes a better bottom line for such companies that they own stock.

Now this may sound contradictory, but they are not allowed to take official action that could boost their personal wealth as sole beneficiaries. (If a spouse owns the stocks, that’s okay!)

According to the Washington Post:

Most of the senators who have holdings in Pentagon vendors told The Post that they see no reason why they should have to divest. Only Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who owned as much as $315,000 in the banned stocks, said he supports extending the prohibition to members of the Armed Services Committee.

Several members – including Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) – said they sold some of the stocks on the prohibition list this year for financial reasons, but the disclosures for 2010 will not become public until the end of next year, along with those of the rest of Congress.

The Post analysis found that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the panel’s ranking Republican; Sen. Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.); and James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), along with their family members, have had the largest amount of money invested in companies with military contracts dating to 2004.

Nine lawmakers either did not have holdings in the companies or are newly appointed to the panel.

Eight senators and their family members held assets in the nation’s top defense contractors, including General Electric, Northrop Grumman and United Technologies.

And an example (also from the Post):

(Early in the present administration), “several senators had a financial interest in a company engaged in a pitched fight over funding for the continued development of an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35 Lightning II Program. Pratt & Whitney had won the original contract, but members of Congress have been using anonymous and untraceable earmarks to fund a second engine built by a partnership led by General Electric. Proponents of the GE engine say it could lower costs and increase the jet’s readiness.

“President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wanted to end the funding to GE and its partner, Rolls-Royce, and Obama threatened to veto the defense bill over the matter.

“On June 26, 2009, the Armed Services Committee voted 12 to 10 to continue development of the alternative engine.

“Three senators on the committee held GE stocks or bonds during the voting on the engines. None had a financial stake in Pratt & Whitney.”

 

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Posted by at May 23, 2012
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