Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blackwater Hearing Observations

I was able to listen to most of the Blackwater USA hearing before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee while doing desk work. It was unfortunate that some of the members on each side decided to use this hearing for partisan purposes. Had they just stuck to the numbers and the facts it would have been a lot better.

Here's what I got from the hearing:
  • Blackwater hasn't lost anyone it's been protecting;
  • Bizarrely, water bottles seem to be thrown as a deterrent to slow down on-coming vehicles before shots are fired;
  • Blackwater employees don't seem to be under any jurisdiction for their actions;
  • Blackwater bills taxpayers at a 10.4% profit for their services;
  • The average Blackwater employee makes more than General Petraeus;
  • 23% of the contractors Blackwater has in Iraq are foreign mercenaries;
  • And, probably the most important, the State Department refused to say the services provided by Blackwater could not be done by the government.

Probably my favorite line of questioning was that of Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH). For readers thinking that name is familiar, that's because he was appearing opposite our Representative Scott Garrett when Garrett said the housing market was strong.

Hodes seems to be a dollars and cents guy and he stuck to the numbers. Removing all of the accusations of cronyism and partisanship, Hodes boiled down the issue to what this hearing should have been about; whether or not private contracting gets good results for, and is a good expenditure of the taxpayer dollar.

With Blackwater billing a 10.4% profit, and having been paid $832 million to date as part of their most recent contract, that's $86.5 million tax dollars from their contracts that could have gone to anything else.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a longtime critic of the practice of privatizing the military, announced legislation today to phase out the practice. Since the State Department would not say they couldn't do their job without privatization, it should be interesting to see how this debate plays out.

My hope is the Democrats stick to the numbers on this, and skip the partisanship. In addition to the issues of accountability and results, plain and simple, we're paying more as taxpayers than we need to be.

Also, if Representative Henry Waxman's staff reads this, I'd love to know why New Jersey, as a donor State, does not have one Representative on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Eliminating inefficient practices within government to save taxpayers money is a vested interest to our State.

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