U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill used a Senate hearing today to grill the country's top military leaders on the ballooning costs of government contracting, as well as the sustainability of taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.
McCaskill used a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to continue her effort to cut spending and save taxpayer dollars, questioning U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey about large-scale infrastructure projects in Afghanistan that are being financed by U.S. taxpayers but may ultimately prove unsustainable for the Afghan government. McCaskill recently introduced a plan to strip funds for large-scale construction projects in Afghanistan and redirect those resources for use in the construction of roads and bridges in America.
McCaskill plans to offer that amendment once again to the transportation legislation currently being considered in the Senate.
"We've gotten beyond fixing window fronts to large highway construction projects, without rigorous analysis in terms of sustainability," said McCaskill, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. "Aren't we creating a scenario that a lot of this money is going to go into the category that it went into in Iraq, and that is: a lot of wasted taxpayer dollars on Afghanistan infrastructure?"
Panetta responded that he shared McCaskill's concern, and said that as American forces draw down in Afghanistan, "one of the issues that we've got to think long and hard about is sustainability of these efforts... that's something we're going to have to give a lot of consideration to."
McCaskill also quizzed Panetta and Dempsey about the results of a recent study showing that the cost to taxpayers of outsourcing federal jobs to contractors is significantly greater than using federal employees. In March, McCaskill will hold a hearing of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight on the cost of contracting to the federal government.
"I don't need to tell you what a huge piece of your budget contracting represents," McCaskill said. "There's been very little work in trying to hold down the cost of personal services contracts. While we've tried to hold the line on federal employees, contracting has just ballooned."
"Senator, you've provided tremendous leadership on this issue and it is of great concern to me personally," Panetta responded. "Because it is an area that has expanded dramatically. Almost everywhere I go, in my new capacity, I see contract employees providing a lot of services. Some of them I think are very important and they perform a very important role-some of them I question whether or not we could perform the same role and be able to do it at a smaller price."
McCaskill told Panetta and Dempsey that she would soon be introducing comprehensive legislation based on the recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Contracting-a panel she helped create-in order to crack down on the waste of taxpayer dollars in contracting. She told the leaders that she looked forward to their direct input on her legislation after she introduces it later this week.