Worst Nightmare Now Harsh Reality For U.S.A
By John Hanchette
Falls Reporter " - -- OLEAN
-- I have come to believe Dwight David
Eisenhower, our 34th president, is one of the
most underrated and unappreciated men ever to
hold that office.
Until recently, Eisenhower was generally regarded
as a terrific general (commander of all Allied
Forces in World War II) but mediocre president.
Now, he is proving to be one of the most
prescient visionaries of our modern age.
All of my high school years occurred during Ike's
second term. Think "Happy Days" of TV
fame, with Fonzi and the malt shop. To most
parents, the biggest crisis seemed to be this
terrible rock 'n' roll music that was sweeping
the nation and corrupting our youth. The new
dance sensation the Twist (in which partners
never even touched each other) was banned at my
high school, despite being downright puritanical
by today's standards.
The White House coverage was pretty boring, and
so was Ike. The American public loved him because
not much all that bad was happening and he'd
gotten us out of the Korean War, but he was
viewed by most commentators as an unimaginative
Young people paid so little attention to him that
my birth cohort was dubbed the Apathetic
Generation. (We dispelled that unfair tag when
Vietnam came along.)
Eisenhower, however, in January of 1961, in his last speech before
vacating the White House to make room for
the just-elected John F. Kennedy, warned America
of a "disastrous rise of misplaced
power" if we continued allowing the
germination of a new historical entity he called
"the military-industrial complex."
Very few Americans knew what the heck Eisenhower
was talking about. We do now.
It's 46 years later, and we are rapidly coming to
realize the federal government really doesn't run
this country anymore. Huge, shady corporations
with fat federal contracts do.
The public's concept of federal government was
basically forged by FDR's all-encompassing,
can-do successes of ending the Depression and
winning World War II. That no longer holds.
Recent presidents and Congresses -- under
pressure from taxpayers and voters -- have
downsized government to the point where private
companies are under federal contract to perform a
broad scope of functions and get the actual work
done. Almost everything is farmed out.
Don't believe me? Consider this mind-twisting
equation from a well-researched article in the current issue
of "Vanity Fair" magazine:
Private federal contractors now "absorb the
taxes paid by everyone in America with incomes
Viewed a bit differently, "more than 90
percent of all taxpayers might as well remit
everything they owe directly ... to some
contractor rather than to the IRS."
Disastrous "misplaced power" indeed.
Ike was right.
The "Vanity Fair" article is written by
two of the best investigative reporters of our
time, Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele, who
used to ply their craft for The Philadelphia
Inquirer until that double digit-Pulitzer Prize
winning newspaper lost its appetite for expensive
investigative reporting. Bartlett and Steele, who
won two of those Pulitzers and 50 other national
journalism awards, went to "Time"
magazine and now to the increasingly aggressive
Their first article for the big, slick magazine
lays open the above situation, which the authors
call "Eisenhower's nightmare." They
illustrate the dominance of the
military-industrial complex by describing the
success of a powerful private company only a tiny
fraction of Americans have even heard of --
Science Applications International Corporation,
I first came across SAIC about 15 years ago while
toiling as a Washington reporter covering the
Pentagon and other bureaucracies in the wake of
the Persian Gulf War -- Bush the Elder's speedy
eviction of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991,
and equally speedy pullout once the work was
done. (Daddy Bush was smarter than his son in
suspecting an American occupation force in Iraq
would lead to deadly and ruinous civil war, a
conflict of religions and disruption of political
balance in the entire Middle East.)
Thousands of troops had come home from that war
with mysterious, multi-symptom maladies -- some
deadly -- that for years drew persistent Pentagon
scorn for the afflicted vets as gold-bricking
shirkers and benefit-seekers who weren't really
sick at all, or if they were, the Defense
Department held, the illnesses were minor and
mostly in their heads.
Non-government doctors and medical experts in the
Veterans Affairs Department tended to think
otherwise, validating the illnesses as serious
and chronic under the general term Gulf War
Syndrome, but still seeking the causes. The
ensuing conflict of professional opinions led the
Pentagon, VA and Department of Health and Human
Services to hire dozens of private-sector
consultants to advise the federal defense, health
and intelligence communities.
One of the favorite consultant firms that kept
cropping up on this or that aspect of the debate
was SAIC -- and surprise of surprises, SAIC
almost always backed the Pentagon view, despite
the evolving government admission the
debilitating mystery illnesses eventually
affected almost a fifth of those who served.
Editorial interest in pursuing descriptions of
some vague consulting firm waned, and I never got
the go-ahead to write much about SAIC, but now
Bartlett and Steele have nailed this spooky firm
they call a "stealth company."
SAIC, founded in 1969, employs more than 44,000
workers and took in about $8 billion in revenue
last year, almost all of it from the federal
government. It currently holds more than 9,000
active federal contracts. More than 100 of them,
state the authors, are worth more than $10
million each. Two of them are worth more than $1
billion. If all the contracts negotiated and
pending are eventually signed, federal taxpayers
will shell out another $13.6 billion to SAIC.
Indeed, it is hard to keep current with the
federal government's use of SAIC.
Over the weekend, as this column was in
preparation, the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration hired SAIC for $13.5 million to
"support" NASA's Johnson Space Center
"financial and administrative system
services" in procurement, human resources
and daily operations. The contract will be worth
$25 million if two additional one-year options
are signed. The language says SAIC will provide
"sustaining engineering and system
integration support for administrative
systems." That's about as specific as most
federal contracts get these days.
In its recent existence, SAIC was the largest
employee-owned research and engineering firm in
the country, ranking 285 on the Fortune 500 list
and boasting a return on revenue larger than
ExxonMobil's storied percentages. SAIC stock went
public last fall. Its share price rose 40 percent
within a matter of days.
What SAIC purports to do is provide the federal
government with the brainpower and computer
expertise to run its vast and extensive defense,
security and intelligence operations. According
to Bartlett and Steele, "no Washington
contractor pursues government money with more
ingenuity and perseverance than SAIC. No
contractor seems to exploit conflicts of interest
in Washington with more zeal. And no contractor
cloaks its operations in greater secrecy."
SAIC, according to the "Vanity Fair"
article, "has become the invisible hand
behind a huge portion of America's
Talk about conflicts of interest. SAIC hires top
federal officials at such a prodigious rate the
Washington "revolving door" spins so
fast it makes the mind blur. SAIC, write Bartlett
and Steele, "might as well operate an
executive shuttle service between its McLean,
Virginia offices and the CIA, the FBI, the
Pentagon, and the Department of Energy."
New Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is a former
SAIC board member.
Former defense secretary Melvin Laird is a former
SAIC board member.
Former CIA director John M. Deutch is an SAIC
Donald Foley, until recently a top executive at
the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA), the military agency that invented the
Internet, is a current SAIC director.
Rear Admiral Bobby Inman went from head of the
National Security Agency to SAIC board member.
Undersecretary of Defense Ryan Henry is former
senior vice president of SAIC.
William B. Black Jr. retired from a top National
Security Agency office in 1997 to become SAIC
vice president. In 2000, he returned to the NSA.
Two years later, NSA awarded SAIC a $280 million
contract for "Trailblazer" -- a
much-touted effort to redesign an NSA computer
system that had failed to highlight and interpret
such missed such 9/11 terrorism clues as the
intercepted Arabic message on Sept. 10:
"Tomorrow is zero hour."
"Four years and more than a billion dollars
later," write Bartlett and Steele, "the
effort has been abandoned." SAIC is not
fretting. It recently was awarded another $361
million intelligence contract to have another go
at the Trailblazer concept.
The company is "packed ... with generals,
admirals, diplomats, spies, Cabinet officers --
people with access." SAIC, write the
authors, is "a private business that has
become a form of permanent government." SAIC
developed expertise in getting both ends of the
play -- "writing regulations on the
recycling of radioactive metals even as it went
into the recycling business."
But things may be changing. Government audits,
employee lawsuits and federal whistleblowers have
been key in revealing a trail of SAIC failures to
fulfill contract promises despite the river of
taxpayer money. Still, there's a long road ahead
for taxpayer satisfaction. Steele, interviewed
for the magazine's "Contributors"
blurbs, said, "There is no oversight; no one
is watching the money, taxpayers' money."
You will hear more about this hugely powerful
firm. Bartlett and Steele -- despite their
intrepid digging -- have only scratched the
surface. Write your members of Congress ... if
they aren't on SAIC's payroll already.
John Hanchette, a professor of journalism at St.
Bonaventure University, is a former editor of the
Niagara Gazette and a Pulitzer Prize-winning
national correspondent. He was a founding editor
of USA Today and was recently named by Gannett as
one of the Top 10 reporters of the past 25 years.
He can be contacted via e-mail at Hanchette6@aol.com.
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