Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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How Contractors are Like Crack: Part 2 of WaPo's National Security Blockbuster

| Tue Jul. 20, 2010 7:46 AM EDT

The next installment in the Washington Post's blockbuster series dropped this morning, this one focused on the national security establishment's unprecedented reliance on contractors. Like Monday's installment, on the unwieldy sprawl of the nation's intelligence bureaucracy, today's article suggests the government has created a beast it cannot fully control. But the government has grown so dependent on contractors that cutting off or even drastically curbing their use is hardly an option. It's kinda like a drug addiction, where you use more and more until you find you can't stop. Indeed, the widespread use of contractors, the Post reports, begs the question of "whether the government is still in control of its most sensitive activities."

Here are some of the key revelations:

Under federal regulations, contractors are prohibited from performing what are known as inherently governmental functions (see Spencer Ackerman's Danger Room post for intel officials' totally lame pushback on this subject):

"But they do, all the time and in every intelligence and counterterrorism agency…"

The main argument for relying on contractors is that though their rates are higher, they ultimately cost the government less than full-time employees with health insurance, 401Ks, and other benefits. That notion, the Post reports, has been thoroughly "repudiated" over the past 9 years:

Hiring contractors was supposed to save the government money. But that has not turned out to be the case. A 2008 study published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that contractors made up 29 percent of the workforce in the intelligence agencies but cost the equivalent of 49 percent of their personnel budgets. Gates said that federal workers cost the government 25 percent less than contractors.

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Congressional Bloopers: Sheila Jackson-Lee Edition

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 11:28 AM EDT

Here's Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) holding forth recently on how "today we have two Vietnams, side by side, north and south, exchanging and working." Wait, what?

Could she be talking about North and South Korea? No, not even remotely. Conservative blogs, meanwhile, are having a field day with this clip, as well as with comments she made at the NAACP's recent conference likening tea partiers to Klan members:

All those who wore sheets a long time ago have now lifted them off and started wearing, uh, clothing, uh, with a name, say, I am part of the tea party. Don't you be fooled. Those who used to wear sheets are now being able to walk down the aisle and speak as a patriot because you will not speak loudly about the lack of integrity of this movement.

A Kinder, Gentler Blackwater?

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 11:46 AM EDT

Jeff Stein reports this morning that the company formerly known as Blackwater has been awarded a CIA contract worth about $100 million to provide security in "multiple regions." This comes days after the company landed a $120 million State Department contract for work in Afghanistan. Stein's piece includes an interesting quote from an official who defends the government's decision to provide Blackwater 2.0 with more work, given the litany of abuses and scandals in the firm's recent past:

"Blackwater has undergone some serious changes," maintained a U.S. official who is familiar with the deal and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss it freely.

"They’ve had to if they want to survive. They’ve had to prove to the government that they’re a responsible outfit. Having satisfied every legal requirement, they have the right to compete for contracts. They have people who do good work, at times in some very dangerous places. Nobody should forget that, either."

If Blackwater (which is currently up for sale) only now has to prove it's a responsible, legally compliant company, you have to wonder what type of standard government contracting officers were applying previously, as they handed the firm (and its affiliates) contract after contract despite serious questions about its conduct. The offical Stein quotes is echoing the line Blackwater's new management team has been pushing —that the company has been reformed, chastened by the mistakes of its past. It may even be true. Otherwise it's a shrewd, if predictable, PR campaign.

In February, when he was called before a Senate committee to answer for the misconduct of employees of a Blackwater-created shell company named Paravant, Fred Roitz, a senior VP at Xe (as the company is now known), insisted [PDF] the company had truly been transformed into a model corporate citizen: "These changes in personnel, attitude, focus, policy and practice, ownership, and governance represent a break from the past. The new Xe Services remains committed to our nation’s critical missions. We are equally committed, however, to a culture of compliance that in all circumstances reflects a responsible US government contractor." Following the hearing, I approached Roitz to pose a couple questions about his testimony and Xe's new corporate culture. I'd barely introduced myself when he refused to speak with me, brushing past trailed by an entourage of lawyers and crisis management specialists. It sure seemed like the old Blackwater to me.

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