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Since my arrival here in mid-March, we have responded to more than 50 RFP’s. Prior to my R&R trip we had not had a single response to any of them. No awards, but no rejections either. Some of these things date all the way back to March and April. This is incomprehensible in view of the parlous state of the Iraqi electric system and the country’s water facilities. The lead stories on a number of recent evening news broadcasts have been the calamitous state of water and power facilities in Iraq.
As of yesterday the number of our unanswered proposals stood at 59. The total dollars involved are well over $200 million. And, because of the quirky way the government spends your tax dollars, a lot of this money may just be canceled and disappear if it is not committed before September 30! It doesn’t matter that Congress appropriated the money for what were judged to be urgent projects.
I have been absolutely baffled by the apparent paralysis that afflicts the bureaucracy dealing with the RFP’s. The men and women who work there (both civilian and military) seem to be intelligent, dedicated, loyal, and hard-working. Nevertheless, government entities charged with responding to RFP’s such as the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and the Project Contracting Office (PCO), appear unable to overcome the mysterious blockage that prevents them from making the critical decision to award a project. Awarding a project is the first step on the road to getting it executed.
The PCO, for example, recently acknowledged there was something wrong with the process when they asked us if we would permit them to hire an outside company to help with the proposal evaluation process. I wrote back: “Do whatever the hell it takes to get things moving. The Iraqis have little power and water. Time is being wasted. How long do you think they will be willing to wait?”
The PCO decided to bring in the outside help and issued an RFP to solicit bids to do the work. And in a tribute to bureaucratic insanity, that contract is itself in limbo and held up by the system! So…the idea for fixing the system can’t be implemented because they can’t get it through the system!
Bureaucracies everywhere usually drown in their own regulations and body fluids. Government bureaucracies (often abetted by Congress) always drown far more rapidly than others, because no provision is ever made for flexibility in the rigid requirements of rules and laws. Rarely can rules be circumvented or abridged, even when it is the collective wisdom of everyone involved that a dire emergency exists. For most members of a bureaucracy it is inconceivable that some day a single individual will be told: “To hell with the rules! Fix the problem!”
There are other problems with the existing system that can do nothing but lead to trouble. For example, the tours of duty of contracting officers are far too short. Many of them come here for only six or nine months and then head back to the States — pockets bulging with all the extra money they were able to earn by coming to this dangerous place.
There is nothing wrong with people being paid more for coming to a corner of the world where they are apt to get killed simply because they go out for a walk. But, along with all the extra dough, there should be an intelligent plan for not allowing them to go home a day after they have finally located the men’s room. Three years should be a minimum duration for a tour of duty for contracting officers. They should get four weeks off out-of-country each year.
Continuity and “institutional knowledge and memory” are the most valuable assets a contracting officer possesses. And, every time we send one home after 6 or 9 months all that continuity and institutional memory gets flushed down the drain.
The worst example of “wasted assets” I have seen involves Air Force contracting officers. Many of them are actually very senior NCO’s with years of training and experience as contracting officers. Nice guys. Smart guys. Yet, Air Force regulations limit their tours of duty in Iraq to 120 days. Think of the wasted transportation and housing money! In four months those guys have not only not found the men’s room; they don’t even know what building it’s in.
I have been told the explanation for the paralysis in awarding contracts lies in understaffing. I have no idea if this is true or not. I don’t know how many CO’s are here nor how many are required for the workload because I have no idea of the total workload, although I am sure it’s considerable.
One thing I do know is that even understaffed organizations occasionally turn out some product. Their problem is that they make five candy bars and receive orders for seven more. They fall further and further behind each day, but at least they are turning out some candy bars. In Iraq there are no candy bars being made.
AS SOON AS I GOT BACK from the airport and in the house, I checked the “contracts awarded” site. Nothing! Absolutely nothing in the three weeks I had been gone! Absolutely nothing since March! I can’t believe Americans are in charge of this disaster area. I can’t believe we are showing such an unimaginable level of incompetence or indifference. I can’t believe we are letting the Iraqis down this way. And, they can’t either!
All the Iraqis have told me more times than I care to remember how sure they were that the Americans would fix everything. The Iraqis measure the progress in their lives with easy-to-use yardsticks. “Last summer we had lights 10 hours a day. We had air-conditioning all night. This summer my family and I are getting by on two hours of electricity a day,” says Erbel. When daytime temperatures are over 130 degrees and over 100 at night, it’s easy to remember when the air-conditioning last worked.
The complaints are becoming more vociferous. “You told us you would fix everything,” says Aliaa. Then, Abdullah adds: “You told us there was $18 billion to fix it and nothing is happening…It’s not that you are erecting transmission lines that don’t work. If you did that, I would say you are at least trying. You people are simply not doing a damn thing!” (All these people asked that I alter their names and not further identify them.)
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online