May 21st, 2010
03:09 PM ET
13 years ago

State, Defense departments scolded for not doing homework

Washington (CNN) - Outraged over what she says is incomplete information about billions of dollars paid to private contractors, a U.S. senator is threatening to issue subpoenas to the State Department and the Pentagon to force them to cooperate.

At a hearing about State and Defense department counternarcotics contracts, Sen, Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, scolded senior administration officials for not "minding the store."

"I will not hesitate to use subpoenas, because this is important. It is billions and billions of dollars. We need to get to a point where the appropriators say, 'no more money until you are at least capable of showing us how you have spent what you've got,' " McCaskill said.

At Thursday's hearing of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, McCaskill criticized the Defense Department for going outside the government, hiring a contractor to answer the committee's questions about contracting. And she accused the State Department of providing inaccurate numbers to the Senate panel.

"We weren't even told it was an incomplete number when it was given to us. We had to point out to you it was an incomplete number based on other research we had done," McCaskill told Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson. "In fact, the number we got, somebody on our staff could have gotten in an hour in a Google data search."

The State Department has spent almost $7 billion working with Latin American countries to train local police and destroy drug fields and on a variety of other activities to combating narcotics, with the lion's share, $4.2 billion, spent in Colombia.

But Johnson was unable to tell McCaskill how much money was spent last year or how many counternarcotics contractors worked for the State Department. "I don't have it at my fingertips right now," Johnson said.

McCaskill, clearly frustrated by Johnson's inability to provide details, lectured him repeatedly about the lack of cooperation and oversight.

"We're talking about contracting and whether somebody is minding the store on contracting," McCaskill said. "And we are going to continue to bore down until we get the answers on contracting, because I have an uneasy feeling that if we get all the information, there is going to be a lot more work that has to be done on contracting oversight at State."

On the Pentagon side, William Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said that some problems had been discovered only because of McCaskill's committee.

"In compiling the information requested by the subcommittee for this hearing, my office found inconsistent records management among the various contracting entities, found that the volume of procurement actions overwhelms staff capacity in some instances, and found that many of the acquisition steps are manual processes that are both time-consuming and error prone," Wechsler said in his prepared testimony.

Wechsler said the Defense Department was able to provide only an estimate about how much of the $5.3 billion it had spent on counternarcotics operations over the past decade had been paid to contractors.

He admitted that in order to prepare for the subcommittee's questions about contractors, the Defense Department had gone outside the government - and hired a contractor.

"I am concerned you have to estimate that figure, and I am even more concerned that you had to hire a contractor to help you estimate that figure," McCaskill said. "If, in fact, the people at the Pentagon are hiring contractors to take care of hearings, how do we ever get through to that maze of bureaucracy?" McCaskill asked. "Should we pass something in the Defense
Authorization (bill) this year that says you should not hire a contractor to help you prepare for oversight hearings?"

Filed under: Department of Defense
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. GI Joe

    Give'em hell. We've spent too much money on the "Haliburtons" and other contractors that has NOT been used except to line someone's pockets.

    Find out whose pockets are being lined, and fire them !!!! NOW.

    May 21, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  2. GI Joe

    When will Cheney be imprisoned for all his criminal activity? WHEN?

    May 21, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  3. Steph

    Thank you Sen. McCaskill! This is a perfect example of an incumbent who needs to stay exactly where she is. The use of contractors needs more scrutiny.

    May 21, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  4. GI Joe

    I know how to solve the gulf oil leak - shove cheney and all his haliburton profits into the hole. That should clog it forever.

    May 21, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  5. Steve, New York City

    Smells like those loud-mouthed hypocrite Neo-Cons are doing more than we thought (behind the scenes) to continue transfering wealth outside of the United States. . .Halliburton = Dick Cheney = Paul Wolfowitz = Feith = criminals!

    May 21, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  6. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    Another disgusting thing is having a State Department spokesman publicly condemning the Arizona immigration law that has not read it. This should be as much of an embarassment to the slimy, corrupt Obozo administration as having their Attorney General and Homeland Security Big Sis, condmening it without having read it. Then of course this whole administration is an embarassment.

    May 21, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  7. IKHAN

    So what folks.Thats what the wars are started for. Profiteering.

    Haliburton,private contractors & others raking in moolah. Who cares.

    The House just signed a check for $200+ million for Israel.So what?
    Our firefighters,police,teachers losing jobs.School districts, welfare programmes , health,other vital services cutting back or closing up.So what?
    Who cares?We have enough money in taxes from our hard earned dollars to spread around but not here.

    May 21, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT WORK SEN. MCCASKILL!!! You are to be commended for your doggedness, preparedness, and your forthright no-nonsense take-no-bull approach to this situation.

    Why would you hire an OUTSIDE contractor to answer questions about the innerworkings of a department that you are in charge of? Johnson may as well have hired a lawyer, that's how SUSPECT his maneuver to get around accountability looked. Johnson being clearly unable to provide a breakdown of where the money was spent is sufficient enough reason for the justice department to step in and conduct an audit/investigation.

    We are talking about someone NOT being able to tell you how they spent BILLIONS of dollars, while simultaneously insisting that they need MORE.

    I keep telling you there's a new sheriff in town, and one of the things he promised to do was to review government waste and lack of accountability. Say what you will dissenters, but he's keeping his promise.

    May 21, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  9. Tulsa

    Go Claire!
    It doesn't matter which party is in office, the agencies and departments must stop WASTING money!
    Put their feet to the fire and hold them there.

    May 21, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  10. LacrosseMom (the real one)

    BRAVO to Sen. McCaskill! You are a true American hero for questioning and calling the Pentagon on the "carpet"! There has been and IS such horrible WASTE! The Defense Department's budget is larger than our nation's school budgets combined!

    Its about time we held those responsible for waste accountable. How about Bush, Dick & Co.? We are spending .........$6 .......BILLION a month fighting TWO WARS for 8 years! DO the math, America! Can you imagine how we could pay down the debt that we owe the Chinese if we would just end the Bush Wars?!

    Vote NO in NOvember for the Party of NO!

    May 21, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  11. guy from NM

    Scolded! That will teach them. I am sure after that they will be more honest. The congress is a joke, too much money lining up their pockets, they are just pretending as usual to have the interest of the people at heart.

    May 21, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  12. American Patriot -- a "real" tea partier

    Don't forget to get subpoenas for Bush and Cheney! They need to be indicted as well.

    May 21, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  13. Ken, AZ

    Way to go, Claire.

    May 21, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  14. Ken, AZ

    To "awaitingliberalizationbyCNN": You are an idiot. Stop regurgitating the crap you're being fed by the other idiots on the right. It doesn't take much intelligence to read and understand the Arizona immigration law. After all, look at who wrote it (Republicans).

    May 21, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |