A friend who works for a high-end technology firm pointed out the other day that waging war and creating jobs in these United States are not mutually exclusive. He noted that Raytheon, a company based in my hometown that specializes in missile and other defense systems, is going gangbusters. (This week it announced a quarterly cash dividend and reports 2008 sales of $23.2 billion, according to its website.)
Indeed, weaponry and gunslingers — we call them contractors now — have long been major American exports. Back in the ’60s, the phrase applied to the huge sector of our government and economy involved in warfare was the Military-Industrial Complex. Judging from several recent articles, it’s doing quite well now, too, thank you.
The first, titled “Federal Salaries Explode” on the USA Today home page today, notes that the percentage of federal employees earning more than $100,000 during the recession’s first 18 months increased from 14 percent to 19 percent.
That fact in itself is pretty startling during a time when one in 10 American is out of work and one in six Americans is either out-of-work or underemployed. But what really startles in the USA Today report is the enormous increase of highly paid civilian employees in the Defense Department.
Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.
According to USA Today’s data, these Defense Department employees alone represent 16 percent of all federal employees earning that much money or more. ( Just think what their raises might be if we declared war on Iran, too!)
Of course, there’s another group making good money off of war — and it’s not our soldiers on the ground. It’s the so-called civilian contractors who in Iraq and Afghanistan have at times become nothing less than shadow armies.
The latest news about this is in today’s New York Times. It says that between 2004 and 2006, “Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities … in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.”
If you’ll recall, Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services, lost its contract to provide diplomatic security for the State Department after its “guards” opened fire in a 2007 Baghdad incident that infuriated the Iraqi government and left 17 civilians dead.
In its article today, The Times quotes P.W. Singer, identified as a contracting expert at the Brookings Institution, who says jobs outsourced in recent years “make a mockery of regulations about ‘inherently governmental’ functions.”
“We keep finding functions that have been outsourced that common sense, let alone U.S. government policy, would argue should not have been handed over to a private company,” he told The Times. “And yet we do it again, and again, and again.”
It’s worth noting that The Times articles covers a timespan when George W. Bush and Darth Vader, his vice-president, were running the White House. One can only hope that there is greater oversight of contractors today. But there is no question that the government’s extraordinary reliance on them continues unchecked and unchallenged.
On Dec. 2, August Cole noted in the Wall Street Journal that :
Contractors already outnumber U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and their numbers have been rising all year … Defense Department officials want U.S. troops focused on combating insurgents …
The Defense Department’s latest census shows that the number of contractors increased about 40 percent between the end of June and the end of September, for a total of 104,101. That compares with 113,731 in Iraq…”
Do the math, and it means we have more than 217,000 contractors playing a role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are not American. Many also are doing a lot more than driving trucks or providing supplies.
What are they paid? That’s a very good question. I wouldn’t be surprised if the highest paid among them were factored in, it would substantially swell the ranks of the highly paid civilian Defense Department employees.