Sen. Dorgan Raised the Issue of War Profiteering

I’m not sure why Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D, decided to surprise everyone and announce his retirement Tuesday. I’ll admit right up front that I am not an expert on North Dakota politics, nor a thorough observer of  the man’s nearly-30 year career (17 years in the Senate;  11 years in the House of Representatives) in Washington. I’m not sure if he’s leaving to become a lobbyist for the energy industry, as some have suggested. I suspect it’s just plain politics — he had a tough opponent on the horizon and today’s political winds are against so-called Blue Dog Dems in Red Meat States.

What I do know is that Sen. Dorgan held over 21 hearings in the Senate on private contractor fraud and abuse, including war profiteering, the physical and mental harassment of whistle-blowers in-theater, and most recently on Nov. 6, the constantly burning open-air pits of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan that have made countless veterans sick and looking to the Pentagon for answers. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, is being charged in 22 different class action lawsuits with purposefully burning toxic waste in the open-air pits to save a buck on not installing incinerators. There are now more incinerators at U.S bases today than there were a year ago, but the alleged victims contend that KBR, which has the contract for waste management services, plus practically everything else in its multi-billion LOGCAP contract, could have installed more incinerators years ago (a charge KBR officials vociferously deny).

But even aside from burn pits, Dorgan was one of those rare members of Congress who actually gave a flying fig about exposing not only the abuse that private contractors were perpetuating in the war zone, but the over-use of private contractors in the war zone, period. Aside from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, on the House side, Dorgan, as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, was the only one to use his leadership post as a bully pulpit against abuses — even when there weren’t cameras on to report it — from very early on in the post-invasion occupation(s).

When I first started covering Dorgan and his hearings, his committee was literally scrambling around for space to meet. Let’s face it, whether the Republicans were in charge or the Democrats, most of these politicians hate to talk about war profiteering and all the money that has been bled from our treasury by private contractors who now hold the fate of our soldiers in their hands overseas (they feed them, clothe them, house them and protect them), and, as we know now thanks to Dorgan’s many hearings, they have put our personnel in harms’ way. From dirty water to faulty wiring in barrack showers, contractors have been responsible, but rarely held accountable, Dorgan has said more than once.

When the Democrats took back the majority in Congress in 2006, Dorgan’s committee stopped scrambling for space and announced it would make government oversight a key priority,a centerpiece. Government watchdogs were thrilled. But it didn’t take long to realize that reformist movements were marginalized even when the Democrats were in charge, and while plenty of Democrats liked to get in front of a camera to lash out against the Bush Administration’s use of contractors in the past, they have largely lost their gumption under the year-old, Democratic administration.

Still, Dorgan fought for, but never won the 60 Senate votes necessary to get him an investigative committee with real subpoena powers in 2008. “All you can do is dig and disclose … and keep pushing, because I think this is all an unbelievable scandal,” Dorgan said. “The American taxpayers have a right to be pretty disgusted about what’s going on.”

Dorgan got his wish, sort of, when the Commission on Wartime Contracting starting holding its hearings in 2009, traversing much of the same ground that the DPC had for years. It was a “compromise” because the panel, like Dorgan’s committee, doesn’t have subpoena or enforcement powers. And, in DPC fashion, the commission has already held a number of explosive hearings on contractor abuses — with all the effect of a tree falling in a forest.

Dorgan has not minced words, especially in disappointment:

From DC Bureau, in October:

..But since regaining control of Congress, including control of all standing committee agendas, Senate Democrats have failed to authorize the kind of sweeping probe that they criticized their Republican counterparts for avoiding in 2006. Instead, the DPC remains the central front for combating contractor corruption, where Sen. Dorgan has watched his investigations, many of them corroborated by the Pentagon Inspector General (IG), go unheeded by the Justice Department and the military.

“It’s one of the most disappointing and frustrating things that I have been involved with,” Dorgan said. “This is the most significant waste and fraud in the history of our country …When you have contractors that have demonstrated that they have fleeced the government agency or the taxpayer, I don’t think there should be a slap on the wrist or a pat on the back. They should be debarred.

I appreciate his trying, especially at a time when members of Congress are so concerned with keeping their heads down, being good team players. Playing nice with the defense industry.  Dorgan was curious, creative and responsive when it came to this contractor issue — it’s now been estimated that at least $10 billion has gone down a black whole, missing, unaccounted for — he even deigned to talk to me on a story or two, that’s how important it was for him to get the message out.

While it was a good day for the KBRs and DynCorps and Blackwaters (Xe), it was surely not a good day for the watchdogs.

11 thoughts on “Sen. Dorgan Raised the Issue of War Profiteering”

  1. War is profit. No one in Babylon-On-The-Potomac wants a namby pamby goody-two-shoes making waves about the profit. How about we ask Sen. Dianne Feinstein about war profiteering. Built her a fine new Casa del Death with those war profits.

  2. Having testified twice before SEN Dorgan's DPC, I have come to respect him as one of the true good guys in politics. His efforts to investigate wartime contracting were aimed not at political gain, but at improving the support given to soldiers and protecting the taxpayer in the process. He understood that if money is wasted on contracts, it is not available to the military to spend on other kinds of soldier support such as better body armor, improved vehicles, etc.

    In addition, SEN Dorgan is aprogressive populist who understands the real needs of the general population and that the government can do things to effectively meet these needs. As you might imagine, that is not necessarily a popular position these days.

    I recommend his two books, Reckless and Take this Job and Ship It as useful analysis of our country's problems and possible solutions. As an example, SEN Dorgan discusses the problems of immigration and jobs without becoming a Lou Dobbs. Instead he recognizes the interests of all parties to this issue in a thoughtful manner, suggesting policy which can help.

    SEN Dorgan will be missed in the Senate. I hope the Administration finds a use for his talents.

  3. Too bad about this. Sen. Dorgan wasn't supported in his efforts to deal with this corruption.

    One of the people he looked at was a 22 year old named Efraim Diveroli. This guy somehow received 300 million dollars in govt. contracts to provide ammunition to Afghanistan. Dorgan used him as an example of the corruption in the link below.

    This fraudster eventually plead to one offense with 80 odd other charges being dropped. I wonder about a number of things regarding this case, particularly these two.

    1) did he go to prison and 2) who gave him all those contracts to begin with? Sen. Dorgan isn't the only one who would like to know.

    1. That's a distinct possibility, and might explain why so few on Crapitol Hill (surely not ALL of whom profit from campaign contributions or other blandishments from the MICC) have voiced objections to the rampant and flagrant corruption in the "defense" sector.

  4. just cant figure this out. here we go and fight for Democracy around the Globe and our very own Senators are afraid to speak up ? i think it is time for a drastical overhaul and allow only true blue Americans into the House. not Senators that hold dual Citicent ship with a certain middle eastern Country. this is exactly the reason a certain ethnic group was forced to wear the Star of David on their Lapel many years ago.

  5. It doesn't take a lot of courage for a Democrat to denounce war profiteering. What takes courage is to denounce the suicidally insane Israel-centrism of US foreign policy – and to place blame for it where blame belongs.

  6. Rep. Gary Ackerman, ANother Senator with roots to the holy land was exposed for War profiteering.
    do you people think that traitors like this senator is interested in ending any war ?
    if you want to save America you need to clean up your house of representatives and send the children of david packing. take control over your own country, like the germans did.

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