Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Simply appalling

Money talks. It always has.

Here's a story demonstrates the way government works: It does what lobbyists, contributors and powerful men tell it to do. I'm not saying this is a new development. I'm saying it's happening right now, and the story below makes that apparent.

The question is, where's the outrage? Where's the accountability? How is it that the White House doesn't even make a sincere effort to conceal the fact that it is lying?

But the White House will win on this, because this story is too complex for people to follow. It's too detailed for TV soundbites. It can be rendered irrelevant by FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).

All I ask is, read these excerpts, particularly McClellan's sorry excuse for an evasion, and ask yourself: Is this what I signed on for? Is this the America I want? Do I want this kind of behavior in my name?

From Jefferey Smith's June 7 story in The Washington Post:

For the past three years, the Air Force has described its $30 billion proposal to convert passenger planes into military refueling tankers and lease them from Boeing Co. as an efficient way to obtain aircraft the military urgently needs.

But a very different account of the deal is shown in an August 2002 internal e-mail exchange among four senior Pentagon officials.

"We all know that this is a bailout for Boeing," Ronald G. Garant, an official of the Pentagon comptroller's office, said in a message to two others in his office and then-Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Wayne A. Schroeder. "Why don't we just bite the bullet," he asked, and handle the acquisition like the procurement of a 1970s-era aircraft -- by squeezing the manufacturer to provide a better tanker at a decent cost?

"We didn't need those aircraft either, but we didn't screw the taxpayer in the process," Garant added, referring to widespread sentiment at the Pentagon that the proposed lease of Boeing 767s would cost too much for a plane with serious shortcomings.

Garant's candid advice, which top Air Force officials did not follow, is disclosed for the first time in a new 256-page report by the Pentagon's inspector general. It provides an extraordinary glimpse of how the Air Force worked hand-in-glove with one of its chief contractors -- the financially ailing Boeing -- to help it try to obtain the most costly government lease ever.

And then, later on, this paragraph:
In the copy of the report obtained by The Washington Post, 45 sections were deleted by the White House counsel's office to obscure what several sources described as references to White House involvement in the lease negotiations and its interaction with Boeing. The Pentagon separately blacked out 64 names and many e-mails. It also omitted the names of members of Congress, including some who pressured the Pentagon to back the deal.
You don't have to be a J-school grad to know what that means. The administration made sure that Boeing got a good deal, and it did so at our expense.

So let's go to today's White House press conference, shall we?
Q Scott, a question about this Inspector General's report, involving the lease deal between the Air Force and Boeing. In that report, there are 45 references to White House officials that have been deleted in the Inspector General's report. And that has to do with White House officials' involvement in this particular deal as it was being negotiated and then became more controversial. The question is, would the White House object to these names -- the names of the White House officials in this report being unredacted, being made public? And, if not, would it, in fact, invoke executive privilege to keep those names -- the names of those officials secret?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it was understood going in that this is a jurisdictional matter. The Inspector General for any department only has jurisdiction over that particular department.

Q So what?

Q I'm sorry, I guess I don't understand -- what does that have to do with --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's the Inspector General for the Department of Defense, in this instance. They only have jurisdiction over their particular agency. We worked to help facilitate the investigation by the Inspector General, but this is a jurisdictional matter.

Q Is that to say that the White House will not allow those names to be made public?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a jurisdictional matter, and like I said, it was understood. I mean, I think it --

Q Is that a "yes" or a "no," Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was understood --

Q How is it a jurisdictional matter, for god's sake?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that that information would not be part of the report. But the Inspector General had access to the information he needed to complete his report.

Q So who in the White House was involved in putting pressure to make sure this deal went through? The Washington Post reports and names Andy Card as having some conversations about it, perhaps pushing for the deal. Is that accurate? Were other officials within the White House involved in pushing the deal forward?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't describe your characterization as accurate. In terms of Andy Card's involvement, I've talked to that previously. He served, as he does on a host of issues, simply as an honest broker to make sure that all views were represented and to make sure that it was completed in a timely matter, because it was relating to a national security need that was pressing. And that was the extent of his role.

Q Would the White House invoke executive privilege to keep these names, the names of White House officials -- and I don't know how many we're talking about, you could tell us -- to keep those names from becoming public?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, a couple of points. I think, as I said, it was understood the jurisdictional matter that is involved here, that that information would not be part of the report. The Inspector General had access to the information. Now, in terms of this issue, there was wrongdoing, and the people who were involved in that wrongdoing are being held to account; people are serving jail time because of what they did and others are being held to account for what they did in other ways. The Pentagon canceled the project, they canceled the contract. There are oversight measures that are in place when it comes to issues like this, and in this instance, those oversight measures worked to catch this and it enabled the Pentagon to cancel the contract.

Q So you deny any -- any -- improper interference in this negotiation on the part of any White House official?

MR. McCLELLAN: There has not been any suggestion of that whatsoever.

Q Then in the interest of transparency, why not make all those names public?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have worked to provide Congress with information. We worked to facilitate the DOD investigation and congressional leaders have been looking at this, as well. As I said, those who were involved in wrongdoing are being held accountable.

Q But if White House officials were also involved in the conversation, by making the names public you could then assure everyone that no White House officials were involved in trying to persuade people to push this deal through.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what oversight measures are for. There are oversight protections in place to look at all these issues, both from Congress, as well as internally, with the Department of Defense. And in terms of this issue, it's not related to anything that you're bringing up, it's related simply to a jurisdictional matter.

Q No, but if you fall back on the excuse that jurisdictional concerns prevent those names from being made public, you let us wonder whether there was any connection between any of the White House names in that report and any of the wrongdoing.

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, that's all been looked into and continues to be looked into by members of Congress. It was looked into by the Inspector General. The Inspector General, as I pointed out, had access to this information so that he could look at it, and look at it in the overall context, as well.

Q You're suggesting that jurisdictional matters would have prevented him from doing any of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, maybe if you have something to bring to my attention, you ought to bring it to my attention, but --

Q I'm asking you why you don't want to be more transparent.

MR. McCLELLAN: The people who were involved in wrongdoing are being held to account.

And then he moves on. He's counting on the rest of us moving on, too.

What we're seeing is a government that is run on the -- so far successful -- assumption that the American people suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. And those of us in the media just keep dishing out the sugar.