Friday, May 01, 2009

Blue Dog Becomes Bulldog on Defense Department Delinquencies

Three weeks ago, at a local bloggers meet-up with Tennessee Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper, the subject of applying the same fiscal responsibility to the defense budget that is applied to the domestic budget came up. The Blue Dog gave indications at that event that he was considering dropping that hammer. This week it looks like the hammer is starting to fall.

Bill Theobald gives a blow-by-blow account of Jim Cooper sparring with a Department of Defense executive during a hearing on reforming the Pentagon. I was impressed by how forcefully Mr. Cooper went after the retreating and defensive bureaucrat, and never really let him off the hook. It is a breathless exchange in which Cooper tenaciously cross-examines Pentagon failures and demands that someone take personal responsibility for the mess and malfeasance of defense contracts (including giving one to a couple of inexperienced college kids).

For his part the DoD official refuses to tab any one individual as responsible.  He blames shoddy vehicle maintenance and ill-advised purchases not on personal oversight but on impersonal contracts, "metrics," and procedures. What the official refuses to acknowledge is that reducing personal responsibility to paper rules and requirements does not insure good behavior, but merely defines how bad contractors can be without violating a contract. There are already thousands of pages of regulations on acquisitions, and adding a hundred more won't guarantee that defense contractors will use them responsbility. Their plan to establish an organization to better outsource personal responsibility doesn't see to promising, either. That could effectively leverage and launder more tax dollars for DoD.

Kudos to Congressman Cooper for holding DoD's feet to the fire on this one. Face-to-face accountability and the shame that may accrue are more effective prods to personal responsibility than padding the policy. It would be easy to demagogue critics of irresponsible defense spending as unpatriotic and weak. Democrats need to fight the GOP impulse to excuse everything the Pentagon spends.

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