Military spending is perhaps one of the most sacred institutions of the American federal government. Having more than doubled during the past decade with two wars and increased counterterrorism and security efforts, it has seemingly become something political leaders cannot touch without being ostracized. And though we cautiously trust our military is not wasting taxpayer dollars and is staying responsible under competent leadership, we cannot confidently speak of the same trust for the private contractors with which our government continues to do business.
It is quite refreshing and assuring, then, that our recently re-elected senior senator, Claire McCaskill, was successful in pushing her Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act through the Senate on Thursday. The bill — which was co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine — has been attached to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual legislation that allows the military to operate and received much criticism last year for codifying indefinite detention of citizens into federal law.
The amendments will reform the wartime contracting industry by increasing oversight, reforming overseas contracting practices, promoting transparency and competition in the contracting process and increasing contractor accountability, McCaskill’s office said. Her bill was formed largely with recommendations from the wartime contracting commission she helped create in 2008. This commission also found that no more than $60 billion of taxpayer money was lost through contractor fraud and waste in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s absolutely unacceptable, especially considering the massive impact $60 billion could have on America’s schools, hospitals or roads.
Though we sincerely hope America will never again have to send its soldiers to war, we cannot rest on such hopes. And if we do once again plunge headfirst into violent conflict, it’s safe to say accountability and transparency will likely not be the first priority of our government and the contractors it hires. Reform of the wartime system, then, cannot wait until the middle of war. It must be set in place before conflicts arise, and McCaskill has, as she promised on the campaign trail, taken a huge step toward doing so with expediency and effectiveness.
Nobody in Congress is explicitly against better accountability in government. But it takes great courage to stand up and take action to protect taxpayers despite the pressure from special interests — in this case, the bloated military-industrial complex — to maintain the current state of affairs. The 2013 NDAA, which has received sharp criticism from the White House for placing what it sees are more unnecessary restrictions on President Barack Obama’s capacities as commander in chief, gives Congress the opportunity to start restoring American citizens’ trust in their elected officials.
And that can only happen through action — consistent, thoughtful and intelligent action. We highly commend our senator for taking the initiative to follow through on her campaign pledges and previous work in government accountability and to push this legislation through. The output of the 112th Congress might not end up pleasing everyone, and it might, as has been previously demonstrated, only please 10 percent of Americans. But Sen. Claire McCaskill has worked hard to ensure at least one big step forward will be taken this term. And for that, we are proud to be her constituents.