Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Katrina Says About Counterinsurgency

Central parts of what has gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan are only partially tied to Big Issues like military strategy and tactics. Rather, these stem from a not very debated part of security and military studies: the introduction of (perceived) modern management and administration techniques such as outsourcing -- executed in a peculiarly blueeyed way that is glaringly incompetent. This story from CNN -- on the lack of controls on reconstructing funding spent on Katrina story -- confirms the pattern:
The tally for Hurricane Katrina waste could top $2 billion next year because half of the lucrative government contracts valued at $500,000 or greater for cleanup work are being awarded with little competition. Federal investigators have already determined the Bush administration squandered $1 billion on fraudulent disaster aid to individuals after the 2005 storm. Now they are shifting their attention to the multimillion dollar contracts to politically connected firms that critics have long said are a prime area for abuse.

In January, investigators will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts. The charges range from political favoritism to limited opportunities for small and minority-owned firms, which initially got only 1.5 percent of the total work. "Based on their track record, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw another billion more in waste," said Clark Kent Ervin, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general from 2003-2004. "I don't think sufficient progress has been made."

The story about the incompetent handling of the outsourcing of police training in Afghanistan a) looks a lot like the one on Katrina here, and b) might explain a lot about the current situation (mentioned in this post).

Evidently, any kind of public outsourcing should follow basic rules of accountability, transparency and oversight. And more evidently, these are especially called for when the outsourcing deals with issues of national security interest. In the case of Federal outsourcing these exist (OMB Circular A–76, 2003, pdf). Enabling more federal outsourcing has been a focus area for the Bush Administration, including the Army (the Army's implementation of the OMB rules is called Army Regulation 5-20). Whether these revised rules are too lax I don't know: all that is visible from here is the practical context and fallout, e.g. as in this 2003 news item:
Officials want to turn over to the private sector those jobs determined not to be central to the Army’s national defense mission. The method generally followed is to allow defense contractors to compete with Army employees to determine who can best perform the job at the lowest cost, a process that requires a comprehensive economic analysis. The Army’s plan is in keeping with last year’s White House directive that agencies increase the amount of work deemed not "inherently governmental" that is contracted out or put up for competition between the public and private sectors.
The trouble began when the outsourcing cum public downsizing agenda got mixed up with the national security agenda through Rumsfeld's lean-focused transformation. Legacy-defense organizations have always operated with residual or duplicate elements -- for reasons of incompetence, sure, but also because war is inherently unpredictable and strategic leeway is necessary.

Outsourcing anything not related to core military functions has included not only cooking and basic logistics -- but also civilian elements of Stabilization and Reconstruction (including counterinsurgency) which did not look like 'important DoD stuff'. Being a stepchild of an organization will always carry disadvantages -- but if the stepchild is crucial to the overall success then maybe it needs new parents?

With the NSPD 44, State was formally given responsibility for Reconstruction, and created the S/CRS to take ... well, at least they probably have the capacity to follow academic debates on the subject. The NSPD 44 trouble will not go away until DoD either takes S&R serious -- or until Congress gives S/CRS a decent budget. Doing S&R and counterinsurgency entails giving the political reconstruction side a fair consideration.

Now, let's play a little game: We aim to
achieve the same effect on the ground from both military and civilian type initiatives and thus a balance between the two kinds of action. Then we acknowledge that military stuff is expensive, and discount roughly for logistics provided by the military, other special material expenses (procurement, etc.). What would the respective budget shares then be? If not 50-50 then maybe a repartition giving about 2/3 to military type expenses.

Polemically, a decent budget for the S/CRS would then be 1/3 of the money spent on S&R in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to this CRS report, out of the total (US) cost of Afghanistan and Iraq of US$ 357 bn, 20.2 bn has gone to training security forces and 25.8 bn to reconstruction, foreign aid and embassy expenses. Counting training of local security forces as part of the civilian tasks (enhanced CIMIC), this makes for a total of 46 bn for reconstruction. Here the repartition is 87% vs. 13%. However, if we put training under the military heading, the count becomes 93% vs. 7%. Arguably, then, an additional amount of between 71 and 93 bn should have been spent on reconstruction (at least, not factoring in the increased total amount).

The trouble is that State will never get an operating budget for S&R even remotely comparable to DoD because of the necessitas of security -- and that DoD, in spite the DoD Directive 3000.05, will be very unlikely to fully embrace S&R in practice. Tom Barnett's positive vision for a DoD originated Department of Everything Else may very well be the only possible way in the long term (Knoxville op-ed).

But in the short term raising the budget for anything -- whatever its importance -- doesn't matter if the money is not well-spent.

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