Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Monday, March 05, 2007
How privatization ruined Walter Reed
Since the Washington Post broke the Walter Reed hospital scandal last week, journalists, politicians and regular Joes have been scratching their heads trying to figure out how on earth the military's premier medical facility -- the jewel in the crown for the care of our uniformed military (before Rummy slated it for closure a couple of years ago...) came to be symbolic of America's failure to take care of our wounded troops (here's CNN's coverage of today's hearings on Capitol Hill). Well, maybe it's time to stop scratching, because an old, familiar tune is starting to sound throughout Washington. It's called, the "f***d by privatization" rag. From the March 3rd edition of the Army Times:
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has subpoenaed Maj. Gen. George Weightman, who was fired as head of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, after Army officials refused to allow him to testify before the committee Monday.

... Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and subcommittee Chairman John Tierney asked Weightman to testify about an internal memo that showed privatization of services at Walter Reed could put “patient care services… at risk of mission failure.”

But Army officials refused to allow Weightman to appear before the committee after he was relieved of command.

“The Army was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation for the decision to prevent General Weightman from testifying,” committee members said in a statement today.

The committee wants to learn more about a letter written in September by Garrison Commander Peter Garibaldi to Weightman.

The memorandum “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,’” the committee’s letter states. “According to multiple sources, the decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed led to a precipitous drop in support personnel at Walter Reed.”

The letter said Walter Reed also awarded a five-year, $120-million contract to IAP Worldwide Services, which is run by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official.

They also found that more than 300 federal employees providing facilities management services at Walter Reed had drooped to fewer than 60 by Feb. 3, 2007, the day before IAP took over facilities management. IAP replaced the remaining 60 employees with only 50 private workers.
What's more:
The letter said the Defense Department “systemically” tried to replace federal workers at Walter Reed with private companies for facilities management, patient care and guard duty – a process that began in 2000.

“But the push to privatize support services there accelerated under President Bush’s ‘competitive sourcing’ initiative, which was launched in 2002,” the letter states.

During the year between awarding the contract to IAP and when the company started, “skilled government workers apparently began leaving Walter Reed in droves,” the letter states. “The memorandum also indicates that officials at the highest levels of Walter Reed and the U.S. Army Medical Command were informed about the dangers of privatization, but appeared to do little to prevent them.”

The memo signed by Garibaldi requests more federal employees because the hospital mission had grown “significantly” during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It states that medical command did not concur with their request for more people.

“Without favorable consideration of these requests,” Garibaldi wrote, “[Walter Reed Army Medical Center] Base Operations and patient care services are at risk of mission failure.”
Mission failure, achieved.

So was Walter Reed done in by privatization? The DNC has already smelled blood in the water, particularly as the VA scandal begins to widen. Here's what Camp Dean had to say today:
“It’s an unconscionable disgrace that after serving so bravely in Iraq our troops would be subjected to these abysmal conditions and treated so callously when they needed care. The President's stubborn commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq has sent troops into battle without proper lifesaving equipment or training, and the incompetent mismanagement has put their lives and well being at risk when they come home. The Administration's outsourcing agenda has disgracefully put politics ahead of quality care for our troops and veterans. Democrats are committed to getting to the bottom of this tragedy and will make sure our troops have every resource available from deployment to when they return.”
Oh, no, not that ... I mean the good stuff:
IAP Involved in Katrina Ice Fiasco. Separately, the Pentagon's inspector general is auditing an Army Corps of Engineers contract used to provide ice after Hurricane Katrina and is examining another to install temporary roofs on homes after the disaster. The ice contract with IAP Worldwide Services Inc., based in Cape Canaveral, Fla., came under scrutiny after reports emerged that the Corps of Engineers ordered twice as much ice as it needed in the days after the disaster. Millions of pounds of ice were sent to storage, some as far away as Maine. [Washington Post, 11/17/2005]

IAP Run by Former Halliburton Executives. IAP, which is based in Cape Canaveral, Fla., has more than $1 billion a year in revenue and more than 5,000 employees around the world, according to the company's Web site. It is owned by Cerberus Capital Management LP, a private asset management firm. The firm has grown exponentially in recent years in part because of contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq. It recently recruited high-ranking Halliburton Co. official Al Neffgen to be its chief executive. IAP's President is Dave Swindle. Prior to IAP, Swindle was Vice President, Business Acquisition and National Security Programs and an Officer for Kellogg Brown and Root. In this capacity, he was responsible for the Government and Infrastructure Division's Business Development Operations for KBR Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe-Africa, and the Middle East. [IAP Website, Accessed 3/5/2007; Washington Post, 10/20/2005]

IAS Chief Executive Defended Iraq Gas Price Gouging. According to Rep. Waxman's Letter, IAS "is led by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official who testified before our Committee in July 2004 in defense of Halliburton's exorbitant charges for fuel delivery and troop support in Iraq." [Waxman Letter to Maj. Gen. George Weightman, 3/2/2007
yeah, that, straight from the DNC daily press missive today. And wouldn't you know there'd be a Florida connection? IAS' web-site boasts of its contracts with federal and state government agencies, principally the Pentagon.

Want more? Here's video from late last week from CNN, courtesy of C&L.

And here's the Army Times' Walter Reed scandal coverage roundup.

Also, the NYT tracks the blog coverage. Here's a sample:
Some conservative blogs expressed no surprise at the report today about problems at both military- and Veterans Administration-run facilities. After all, they’re run by the government, they argue. David Bernstein writes in The Volokh Conspiracy, “If private companies had mismanaged outpatient care for veterans the way the V.A. system has, there would be strong calls from all the usual quarters for a government takeover, and proclamations of how we can’t trust ‘greedy’ for-profit companies to take care of veterans.”
er... Mr. Volokh... Walter Reed's outpatient care was privatized, and people ARE saying that its mismanagement proves you can't trust greedy, for-profit companies to take care of veterans ... moving on!
But the liberal blogosphere, fueled by research in the blog Raw Story and an opinion column today by The Times’s Paul Krugman, flipped the argument on its head, at least when it comes to Walter Reed (which, again, is not run by the V.A.). [Emphasis added] Apparently, a company called IAP Worldwide Services had a large contract to help run the Washington military hospital.

“Chalk the declining conditions at the military hospitals up as another victory in the GOP passion for contracting out government services,” writes Matthew Yglesias in his blog.
Sorry righties, on this one, you lose.

Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin manages to miss the story, too. La Malkin asks:
Will the Bush-bashers join with free-market critics to effect real change and help the troops who need and deserve better care?
Again, my dear, Walter Reed was a textbook example of the kind of free market privatization you prefer in action ... and earth to Malkin: it sucks.

Note: tomorrow, we're going to have Sgt. 1st Class Drew Brown of IAVA on the radio show to talk about the woes of VA healthcare, which, by the way, apparently sucks too. And more on how contracting allows the government -- and both political parties -- to reward former Pentagon alumni here. Read all the way to the bottom for a special appearance by one Robert Gates.

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