The Pentagon’s no-bid contract

Failing to supervise these cozy relationships takes incompetence to a new level.

Last week, the Center for Public Integrity released a report finding that 40 percent of Pentagon contracts over the last six years – worth some $362 billion – were awarded on a no-bid basis.

That shouldn’t surprise industry analysts and Pentagon insiders already familiar with the cozy relationships between the Defense Department and the country’s biggest defense contractors. But it should outrage the average citizen troubled by the hush-hush backroom deals that pass for good governance these days.

No-bid contracts, coupled with a tight-knit defense establishment, virtually guarantee widespread corruption.

Defenders of no-bid contracts have rightly pointed out that consolidation in the defense industry has often left the Pentagon with only a single supplier of a weapons system. It is also true that the nature of weapons production, with large upfront investments and extended development timelines, make some no-bid contracts cost-effective.

Those realities help explain why Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest recipient of Pentagon dollars and the maker of several sophisticated weapons, got 74 percent of its $94 billion over the last six years on a no-bid basis.

But the story is a bit more complicated. The Pentagon has undergone a wave of privatization in the last decade and now out-sources everything from security services to highly sensitive interrogations. Contracts for mundane services such as construction and supply operations could easily undergo a competitive bidding process. That they often don’t surely has something to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Pentagon contractors in recent years.

The Pentagon has also developed an expensive tendency to skimp on monitoring and compliance efforts. Doling out billions in no-bid money is bad enough; failing to supervise those cozy contracts takes incompetence to a new level.

The media and Democratic politicians have already raised questions about Halliburton, its ties to Vice President Dick Cheney and the billions of dollars in no-bid contracts it has received for reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Those same questions should now be raised about how the Pentagon awards contracts in general.