Thursday, September 30, 2004


Pentagon Spends Without Bids, a Study Finds

September 30, 2004
Pentagon Spends Without Bids, a Study Finds

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 - More than 40 percent of Pentagon business, a total of $362 billion, has been awarded on a no-bid basis over the last six years, according to a report issued Wednesday that showed that the biggest companies won the bulk of their contracts without going through a competitive process.

The nation's largest military contractor, the Lockheed Martin Corporation, received the most Pentagon business on a noncompetitive basis. Seventy-four percent of Lockheed's $94 billion in Pentagon contracts received since fiscal 1998 was awarded without competition, according to the report, which was written by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington nonprofit group that studied 2.2 million Pentagon contracts worth a collective $900 billion.

"Competitive bidding at the Pentagon happens less often than we think, and the no-bid controversy surrounding Halliburton in Iraq actually is, unfortunately, not an aberration," said Charles Lewis, the center's executive director. Mr. Lewis's organization was one of the first to study contracts won by Halliburton and other companies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and today's report grew out of that earlier work.

At Boeing, the nation's second-largest contractor, 60 percent of the $81 billion in Pentagon contracts since 1998 was awarded without competition, as was 67 percent at the No. 3 contractor, the Raytheon Company, which received $40 billion in contracts over the same period. Of the nation's top 10 military contractors, 9 won more than half of their Pentagon contract dollars through noncompetitive awards.

Thomas C. Greer, a Lockheed spokesman, said that because of "the substantial investment and lengthy development cycles, followed by limited annual production quantities," competitive bidding for Pentagon contracts is often not cost effective. Nevertheless, "It is important to note that sole-source awards still mandate contractor performance," Mr. Greer said.

In addition, the report said that because of military industry consolidation, 80 percent of all Pentagon contracting dollars were won by the top 1 percent of all contractors over the six-year period, which ran from Oct. 1, 1997, to Sept. 30, 2003. The report found that the Pentagon has become increasingly dependent on military contractors for work that had been done by soldiers and Pentagon civilian employees.

Currently, for instance, half of the military budget is outsourced to contractors, while oversight of these contracts has declined, the report said. The Pentagon has reduced the number of government officials who supervise contractors, instead hiring contractors to oversee and manage others, according to the report. The Pentagon hired a contractor to determine how many contractors it had employed, the report said.

"There is an even more fundamental problem underscoring our entire investigation: the stunning lack of accountability," said Mr. Lewis. "This is a Keystone Kop situation where no one is monitoring the monitors. This is a very serious situation, and the Pentagon is treating it like a hair in the soup."

Glenn Flood, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the center's "accusations have been made before." Mr. Flood said that much of the Pentagon's business is so specialized that it is impossible to find more than one supplier. Industry consolidation has also accelerated the noncompetitive trend, he said.

"Where do you go if you want or need a sub or a joint-strike fighter?" said Mr. Flood. "The mergers of the 1980's have taken their toll. You have only five or six major contractors. Where do you go?"

But the center's report said that the great growth in outsourcing is taking place in providing services, not in the production of weapon systems. This includes items like the interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, helping to write the Bush administration's military budget and devising strategic plans. At the same time, military contractors have become skilled at Washington politics and in providing jobs for Pentagon officials after they leave the government.

The leading recipient of campaign donations from military contractors has been President Bush, with $5.4 million from the industry since 1998. Military contractors, however, began stepping up contributions to Senator John Kerry after he won the Iowa caucuses, the report said. Before the caucuses, Senator Kerry had received $332,000 from the industry. He has received just under $2 million since then. The Republican Party has received $62 million from the industry since 1998, compared to $24 million for the Democratic Party, according to the report.

Richard L. Aboulafia, a military industry analyst at the Teal Group, a consulting firm in Fairfax, Va., said that Pentagon outsourcing is often neither the cheapest nor the most efficient approach.

"I think it is a time for a comprehensive rethink of this trend," Mr. Aboulafia said. "A lot of it is done to produce short-term numbers that reduce the size of government, and that always is pleasing to voters. But I'm not sure it's the best strategic decision. There's a terrific emphasis on cutting the numbers, and to do that, you need outsourcing to make the numbers look good. But how much of that is just window dressing?"

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company |

Who Really Controls the World's Marketplace?

September 30, 2004
I.M.F. Asks China to Free Its Currency From Dollar

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 - The International Monetary Fund added its voice on Wednesday to the growing calls for China to float its currency immediately, a move that supporters say would help reduce the United States trade deficit and strengthen the global economy.

On the eve of annual meetings here with the World Bank, Rodrigo de Rato, the managing director of the I.M.F., said that it would be to China's advantage to uncouple the yuan from the dollar.

The tight link to the United States currency has been blamed for making foreign goods too costly in China and Chinese exports unfairly inexpensive.

"There should be more flexible currencies, not only for China but the whole of Asia," Mr. de Rato said to a group of 10 journalists at his headquarters.

China is expected to make some concession on currency when its finance minister and central bank governor attend their first meeting with representatives of the Group of 7 wealthy industrialized countries at a dinner here on Friday.

The meeting is a sign of China's growing economic power, and with that acknowledgement has come even stronger pressure to float or revalue the currency, which is pegged at 8.28 yuan to the dollar.

In its World Economic Outlook released on Wednesday, the I.M.F. argued that a more flexible currency would not only help the world economy but would also help tame inflation in China and cool its fast-growing economy. "Risks of overheating have not yet abated," said the report, which said that further monetary tightening would be aided "by greater exchange flexibility."

The United States Treasury secretary, John W. Snow, has promised to use the dinner on Friday to press China on its currency. But a group of Democratic lawmakers, with the encouragement of American manufacturers and labor unions, have said they do not trust the administration to win concessions from China and have said they will file a petition on Thursday, seeking to force China to alter its currency.

The petition will ask the administration to sue China at the World Trade Organization, saying it has violated trade laws by failing to revalue its currency. At least five senators and a dozen members of the House signed the measure because they said that they saw no evidence that China was planning any immediate change in its currency rate.

"One year ago Treasury Secretary John Snow said he was encouraged China was moving towards a flexible rate," said Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan. "Today he's still encouraged. But I'm just so tired of the administration thinking that this rhetoric is a substitute for real action."

On another critical matter, Mr. de Rato has joined with James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, in support of debt relief for the world's poorest nations, as long as rich countries promise an increase in aid for all programs.

In an interview in his office before the beginning of this week's meetings, Mr. Wolfensohn said he worried that the poor who did not live in Iraq or Afghanistan were being forgotten.

"There is more than the war on terror," he said. "The imbalance in the world is greater than ever before; it is more obscured and permanent, and that leads to despair, hopelessness, a lack of development."

Support for debt relief has grown since Britain announced on Sunday that it would pay off 10 percent of the total owed by poor countries to international agencies and challenged other wealthy nations to follow suit. Governments, aid agencies and relief groups have long asserted that developing countries would never climb out of their poverty if they were required to pay more to service debts incurred by irresponsible former governments than they can spend to improve health, education and other basic services.

Both debt relief and currency exchange rates will be important issues at the meetings to be held throughout the weekend.

In a departure from previous meetings, few demonstrators are expected this year. Protestors seem far more concerned about the war in Iraq and the American presidential campaign than loan conditions and debt relief. Security will still be tight outside the two agencies' headquarters, which are near the White House. About 100 people are expected at an all-night vigil on Friday to promote debt relief.

The United States has its own plan for debt relief, drawn up after the administration was unable to persuade the rest of the Group of 7 to agree on debt relief for Iraq, a country that is too wealthy for standard debt forgiveness.

Britain has argued that the debt owed to the I.M.F. could be cut by revaluation of the fund's gold stocks. At the current value of $40 an ounce, the stocks are worth $8.5 billion, but the market price for gold is now over $400 an ounce.

Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, praised Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, and said in a statement that "the massive gold reserve of the I.M.F. can comfortably finance the cancellation of debt without affecting the financial status of any government or institution.

"After years of devastation," he added, "the boards of these institutions can give people in impoverished countries something to celebrate."

In Zambia, for instance, the government is spending more on debt repayments than on education, according to a report to be released on Friday by Oxfam International and V.S.O., an international charity. In order to meet conditions imposed by the I.M.F. to keep inflation down, the government has put a ceiling on hiring new teachers, the report said.

Roy Mwaba, the general secretary of the Zambian National Union of Teachers, traveled here to use the report to try to persuade the I.M.F. to provide debt relief. He said in an interview "that the scenario is quite gloomy without debt relief."

"All of this is having adverse impact on education in Zambia," he said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

With God On Our Side

October 3, 2004
Now on DVD: The Passion of the Bush

You can run but you can't hide: Oct. 5 will bring the perfect storm in this year's culture wars. It's on that strategically chosen date, four Tuesdays before the election, that the DVD of "Fahrenheit 9/11" will be released along with not one but two new Michael Moore books. It's also the release date of the equally self-effacing Ann Coulter's latest rant, of a new DVD documentary, "Horns and Halos," that revisits the Bush mystery year of 1972, and of an R.E.M. album, "Around the Sun," that gets in its own political licks at the state of the nation.

When Dick Cheney and John Edwards debate in Cleveland that night, Bruce Springsteen will be barnstorming in another swing state, as the Vote for Change tour hits St. Paul. All that's needed to make the day complete is a smackdown between Kinky Friedman and Teresa Heinz Kerry on "Imus in the Morning."

Of the many cultural grenades being tossed that day, though, the one must-see is "George W. Bush: Faith in the White House," a DVD that is being specifically marketed in "head to head" partisan opposition to "Fahrenheit 9/11." This documentary first surfaced at the Republican convention in New York, where it was previewed in tandem with an invitation-only, no-press-allowed "Family, Faith and Freedom Rally," a Ralph Reed-Sam Brownback jamboree thrown by the Bush campaign for Christian conservatives. Though you can buy the DVD for $14.95, its makers told the right-wing news service that they plan to distribute 300,000 copies to America's churches. And no wonder. This movie aspires to be "The Passion of the Bush," and it succeeds.

More than any other campaign artifact, it clarifies the hard-knuckles rationale of the president's vote-for-me-or-face-Armageddon re-election message. It transforms the president that the Democrats deride as a "fortunate son" of privilege into a prodigal son with the "moral clarity of an old-fashioned biblical prophet." Its Bush is not merely a sincere man of faith but God's essential and irreplaceable warrior on Earth. The stations of his cross are burnished into cinematic fable: the misspent youth, the hard drinking (a thirst that came from "a throat full of Texas dust"), the fateful 40th-birthday hangover in Colorado Springs, the walk on the beach with Billy Graham. A towheaded child actor bathed in the golden light of an off-camera halo re-enacts the young George comforting his mom after the death of his sister; it's a parable anticipating the future president's miraculous ability to comfort us all after 9/11. An older Bush impersonator is seen rebuffing a sexual come-on from a fellow Bush-Quayle campaign worker hovering by a Xerox machine in 1988; it's an effort to imbue our born-again savior with retroactive chastity. As for the actual president, he is shown with a flag for a backdrop in a split-screen tableau with Jesus. The message isn't subtle: they were separated at birth.

"Faith in the White House" purports to be the product of "independent research," uncoordinated with the Bush-Cheney campaign. But many of its talking heads are official or unofficial administration associates or sycophants. They include the evangelical leader and presidential confidant Ted Haggard (who is also one of Mel Gibson's most fervent P.R. men) and Deal Hudson, an adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign until August, when he resigned following The National Catholic Reporter's investigation of accusations that he sexually harassed an 18-year-old Fordham student in the 1990's. As for the documentary's "research," a film positioning itself as a scrupulously factual "alternative" to "Fahrenheit 9/11" should not inflate Mr. Bush's early business "success" with Arbusto Energy (an outright bust for most of its investors) or the number of children he's had vaccinated in Iraq ("more than 22 million," the movie claims, in a country whose total population is 25 million).

"Will George W. Bush be allowed to finish the battle against the forces of evil that threaten our very existence?" Such is the portentous question posed at the film's conclusion by its narrator, the religious broadcaster Janet Parshall, beloved by some for her ecumenical generosity in inviting Jews for Jesus onto her radio show during the High Holidays. Anyone who stands in the way of Mr. Bush completing his godly battle, of course, is a heretic. Facts on the ground in Iraq don't matter. Rational arguments mustered in presidential debates don't matter. Logic of any kind is a nonstarter. The president - who after 9/11 called the war on terrorism a "crusade," until protests forced the White House to backpedal - is divine. He may not hear "voices" instructing him on policy, testifies Stephen Mansfield, the author of one of the movie's source texts, "The Faith of George W. Bush," but he does act on "promptings" from God. "I think we went into Iraq not so much because there were weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Mansfield has explained elsewhere, "but because Bush had concluded that Saddam Hussein was an evildoer" in the battle "between good and evil." So why didn't we go into those other countries in the axis of evil, North Korea or Iran? Never mind. To ask such questions is to be against God and "with the terrorists."

The propagandists of "Faith in the White House" argue, as others have, that the president's invocation of religion in the public sphere, from his citation of Jesus as his favorite "political philosopher" to his incessant invocation of the Almighty in talking about how everything is coming up roses in Iraq, is consistent with the civic spirituality practiced by his antecedents, from the founding fathers to Bill Clinton. It's not. Past presidents have rarely, if ever, claimed such godlike infallibility. Mr. Bush never admits to making a mistake; even his premature "Mission Accomplished" victory lap wasn't in error, as he recently told Bill O'Reilly. After all, if you believe "God wants me to be president" - a quote attributed to Mr. Bush by the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention - it's a given that you are incapable of making mistakes. Those who say you have are by definition committing blasphemy. A God-appointed leader even has the power to rewrite His texts. Jim Wallis, the liberal evangelical author, has pointed out Mr. Bush's habit of rejiggering specific scriptural citations so that, say, the light shining into the darkness is no longer God's light but America's and, by inference, the president's own.

It's not just Mr. Bush's self-deification that separates him from the likes of Lincoln, however; it's his chosen fashion of Christianity. The president didn't revive the word "crusade" idly in the fall of 2001. His view of faith as a Manichaean scheme of blacks and whites to be acted out in a perpetual war against evil is synergistic with the violent poetics of the best-selling "Left Behind" novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and Mel Gibson's cinematic bloodfest. The majority of Christian Americans may not agree with this apocalyptic worldview, but there's a big market for it. A Newsweek poll shows that 17 percent of Americans expect the world to end in their lifetime. To Karl Rove and company, that 17 percent is otherwise known as "the base."

The pandering to that base has become familiar in countless administration policies, starting with its antipathy to stem-cell research, abortion, condoms for H.I.V. prevention and gay civil rights. But ever since Mr. Bush's genuflection to Bob Jones University threatened to shoo away moderates in 2000, the Rove ruse is to try to keep the most militant and sectarian tactics of the Bush religious program under the radar. (Mr. Rove even tried to deny that the wooden lectern at the Republican convention was a pulpit embedded with a cross, as if a nation of eyewitnesses could all be mistaken.) The re-election juggernaut has not only rounded up the membership rosters of churches en masse but quietly mounted official Web sites like as well. (Evangelicals and Mormons have their own Web variants on this same theme, but not the Jews, who are apparently getting in Kerry just what they deserve.) Even the contraband C-word is being revived out of sight of most of the press: Marc Racicot, the Bush-Cheney campaign chairman, lobbed a direct-mail fund-raising letter in March describing Mr. Bush as "leading a global crusade against terrorism."

In this spring's classic "South Park" parody, "The Passion of the Jew," in which Mr. Gibson's movie tosses the community into a religious war, one of the kids concludes: "If you want to be Christian, that's cool, but you should focus on what Jesus taught instead of how he got killed. Focusing on how he got killed is what people did in the Dark Ages, and it ends up with really bad results." He has a point. It's far from clear that Mr. Bush's eschatology and his religious vanity are leading to good results now. The all-seeing president who could pronounce Vladimir Putin saintly by looking into his "soul" is now refusing to acknowledge that the reverse may be true. The general in charge of tracking down Osama bin Laden, William G. Boykin, has earned cheers in some quarters for giving speeches at churches proclaiming that Mr. Bush is "in the White House because God put him there" to lead the "army of God" against "a guy named Satan." But all that preaching didn't get his day job done; he hasn't snared the guy named Osama he was supposed to bring back "dead or alive."

"George W. Bush: Faith in the White House" must be seen because it shows how someone like General Boykin can stay in his job even in failure and why Mr. Bush feels divinely entitled to keep his job even as we stand on the cusp of an abyss in Iraq. In this pious but not humble worldview, faith, or at least a certain brand of it, counts more than competence, and a biblical mission, or at least a simplistic, blunderbuss facsimile of one, counts more than the secular goal of waging an effective, focused battle against an enemy as elusive and cunning as terrorists. That no one in this documentary, including its hero, acknowledges any constitutional boundaries between church and state is hardly a surprise. To them, America is a "Christian nation," period, with no need even for the fig-leaf prefix of "Judeo-."

Far more startling is the inability of a president or his acolytes to acknowledge any boundary that might separate Mr. Bush's flawed actions battling "against the forces of evil" from the righteous dictates of God. What that level of hubris might bring in a second term is left to the imagination, and "Faith in the White House" gives the imagination room to run riot about what a 21st-century crusade might look like in the flesh. A documentary conceived as a rebuke to "Fahrenheit 9/11" is nothing if not its unintentional and considerably more nightmarish sequel.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company