David SimsEssays

Musk and Sims on Insidious Government Corruption

by David Sims

RECENTLY ELON MUSK stated that his company, SpaceX, had a more difficult time getting government contracts compared to companies which cultivated inappropriate financial relationships with decision-makers:

“In an interview with Bloomberg Business Week, Musk accused military procurement officials of holding up the certification [of SpaceX to do certain kinds of military launches] to curry favor with the ULA, the joint venture of defense contracting giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ‘Essentially we’re asking them to award a contract to a company where they are probably not going to get a job, against a company where their friends are,’ [Musk] said. ‘So they’ve got to go against their friends, and their future retirement program. This is a difficult thing to expect.'”

That’s exactly how it is. I saw that very thing happen repeatedly while I was in the United States Air Force during the 1980s. Senior officers commanding military agencies that need to have technical services (e.g., interaction with orbiting satellites), will curry favor with particular service providers in the expectation of a quid pro quo, a payback, in the form of a highly paid job or consultancy after he retires from the armed forces.

That is illegal because the law says that military officers, like any other government official, must fulfill their fiduciary obligations to the American taxpayers by seeking the best deal, the best value in terms of service and price. When they do otherwise, usually for selfish reasons, they are engaging in illegal corruption.

But they do it. And they get away with doing it. Routinely. Every time, the hammer will fall on any junior officer who blows the whistle on his boss. Count on it. The criminal colonel will get away scot-free, and a brave lieutenant or captain will be vilified and kicked out of the service.

On every wall inside a military facility, there’s a poster expressing the virtue of exposing “Fraud, Waste, and Abuse” and indicating the goodness of reporting any instance noticed. But don’t you believe for one moment that the brass actually supports that idea. Nossir, they do not. The posters are there as an unavoidable duty, and they are mostly just for show. If a military employee actually does blow the whistle, the odds are pretty good that he will have tons of trouble put on him and be kicked out of the organization at the first opportunity.

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Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney’s blog, The Blaster (http://chuckspinney.blogspot.com.au/), has some interesting material on the kind of corrupt arrangements discussed in David Sims’ article above. In a 1990 paper, “Defense Power Games,” Spinney wrote: “Two power games — known in Pentagonese as front loading and political engineering — help to explain how we set ourselves up for a crash in the 1990s, and why, if we continue business-as-usual, our nation will remain stuck in a quagmire of spiraling costs, shrinking forces, and high defense budgets, Cold War or no Cold War. “Front loading is the practice of planting seed money for new programs while downplaying their future obligations. This game, which is a clever form of the old-fashioned ‘bait-and-switch,’ makes it easier to sell high-cost programs to skeptics in the Pentagon and… Read more »