Saturday, March 03, 2007

Walter Reed: Another victim of the "Privitization Fetish"

The Neoconservative fetish for privatizing (eg, outsourcing to companies who support the Administration) has come home to roost again.

Even those who honestly support the idea in theory must be wondering how the theory failed to translate into practice. For them, I shall willingly supply the answer, one that generally eludes theorists of all ideologies.

"Human Factors."
Army Secretary Ousted - "The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a subpoena yesterday to compel Weightman to testify at a congressional hearing Monday.

The committee also released an internal Army memorandum reportedly written in September in which the Walter Reed garrison commander, Col. Peter Garibaldi, warned Weightman that 'patient care services are at risk of mission failure' because of staff shortages brought on by the privatization of the hospital's support workforce."

Or in other words, a large proportion of the support workforce at Walter Reed are not within the Commanding General's chain of command. Only one word for that, in my little green book:


It's unacceptable from a performance standard, obviously. It's unacceptable from a command perspective, and it should be damn well obviously unacceptable from a security standpoint; if I were a terrorist looking for a high-value but poorly secured military target, it would have to be Walter Reed. It has a great deal of symbolic value, it's packed with people and I will bet you money that damn near anyone can get a job with one or another outside contractors.

This, of course, neglects the other obvious means of access - joining the Army itself. But at least there are procedures that should limit that option - and limiting options is what security is all about.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense and a close ally of a leading war critic, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), said Bush's new commission is too little too late. "He's the executive," Moran said. "This has been six years, and now six years later, after an awful lot of neglect, he's going to get around to putting a commission together, a study to tell him what to do. . . . I think he's feeling politically desperate."

White House officials said politics played no role in their decision to form the commission, saying that Bush is genuinely outraged by the conditions at Walter Reed and that he learned about them from the recent news reports. "Once the Walter Reed stories ran, there was a collective feeling in the building, and certainly from the president, that whatever reasons or excuses, it was unacceptable," said Tony Fratto, deputy White House press secretary.

Cough. Choke. Sputter!

First: Can you think of a more damning statement than "the President learned of this through news reports?"

Well, George, what DID you expect, given your habit of expecting the incompetent sociopaths who are willing to give you their personal fealty to perform up to the standards of those who have a professional grasp of reality and the resources to deal with it? What makes you think that they'd do anything other than blow sunshine up your ass, given your shining example?


Mission accomplished?

Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley thought so. After the media tour of Building 18, the Army's surgeon general gave a news conference. "I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard," he said of a facility Priest and Hull found full of "mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses" and other delights. "We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren't serious, and there weren't a lot of them."

Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn't walked through the lobby while the camera crews waited for the tour to start, or if he hadn't acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation. The general also seemed to miss a larger point identified by other officials: Walter Reed's problem isn't of mice and mold but a bureaucracy that has impeded the recovery of wounded soldiers. [emphasis added]

This situation is utterly predictable, given George Bush's approach to command and consequences - or more to the point, his approach to those who take exception to his approach.

As a result, wounded soldiers who cannot be "recycled" back into combat have exactly as much "mission value" as a discarded MRE packet. That should have been apparent given the Administration cuts to funding for Veteran's health care, but for some, those dry facts were apparently a little too abstract.

This, however, is what those budget decisions translate into - a situation that does not even get a coat of paint until it becomes public knowledge.

One wonders what other indignities and shortfalls our troops have to endure on a regular basis because their needs and the needs of their families are being neglected.

But I do have an idea, and I think it's a powerfully GOOD idea. I think our state Governors, (or in some cases, Lieutenant Governors) with the support of their legislatures and their State Congressional delegations, should take the initiative in addressing this issue. Whether or not George Bush and the Pentagon is on board they should pass whatever State and Federal legislation is required to put competent, ethical and accountable leadership in place.

I would suggest that these facilities be placed in the hands of State Guard and Reserve units, supervised by people with both civilian experience and military rank and a decent regard for public opinion and their professional reputations.
This matter that is, very much within the moral authority of a state Governor and I doubt that anyone will grudge what monies need to be shifted, donated or raised to address it. I cannot see a real downside to the House and Senate giving such moral authority cover of law, either. Not for anyone of any party.

This is indeed a failure of leadership, at the very highest level and the leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the leadership of the various States need to realize that. Waiting for our current Commander in Chief to collapse under the weight of his own conscience bears an unacceptable price in human life and dignity, aside from being wishful thinking.

But it's well within the power of Congress to fix this, and fix it quickly, with a simple, two-pronged approach. The first is to reassert State's Rights in the matter of command authority over Guards and Reserves. Guards should NEVER be under the Pentagon's authority; Reserves should only be under that command when activated and deployed in time of war.

"In time of war" being "a state of war having been formally declared." The framers of the constitution - being wise and prescient folks - realized that large standing armies were problematic, and required the Congress to reauthorize the existence of any standing force once every two years. This has not changed.

Do we need a standing force? Of course we do. There are a lot of things our armed forces do that require that degree of commitment, and that level of professional competence, especially within the more technical areas. But it needn't be as large as it is, what it does need is a greater emphasis on training and maintaining the expertise of Guards and Reserves, while fostering and developing a relatively large cadre of experienced officers and noncoms.

The second fork is eliminate the entire redundant military health-care system. NOT specialized hospitals, particularly, and not the security of military staffing - but the clerical and record keeping aspects need to be rationalized in the same way civilian medical care needs to be, so why not address both at once?

The most straightforward way of assuring both quality of care and appropriate record-keeping is to enact universal health-care legislation. As the situation is fairly urgent, both politically and as a matter of practical reality, this is not a good time to "reinvent the wheel."

An entire proven software and administration infrastructure and exists in Canada and it works well. Despite what critics may say, it's not a particularly socialist solution, other than it being partially taxpayer supported. (Individuals do pay premiums and you can opt out in favor of private coverage - which is handled in precisely the same way.)

It will work fine whether or not the money is directed by the system from the DOD, the VA, the Treasury or individual insurance plans, and particularly in the case of Vets with both military and civilian coverage, this would vastly simplify matters for everyone. The truly important thing is the accounting, record keeping and cost-savings a single, secure, nationwide medical service delivery system can achieve.

Let's import it, and I bet it will save everyone involved - including the insurance industry - enough to pay for a much improved taste in beer, as well as a vast national sigh of relief that will translate into a great deal of political capital for everyone smart enough to get behind and push.

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