Annals of Outrage
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In 2004 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Inspector Generals (IG) in various departments of the federal government issued reports revealing fraud, mismanagement and corruption. Here is my list of the Bush administration's Ten Most Outrageous Scandals thus far uncovered by government investigators:
1. Halliburton's Corruption. Nine different reports compiled by the GAO, the Coalition Provisional Authority's IG and the Defense Contract Audit Agency faulted Halliburton's performance in Iraq, where it has been awarded more than $10 billion in U.S. contracts. The government investigators cited, among other things, significant cost overruns, the overcharging of the Defense Department (and taxpayers) by $61 million, illegal kickbacks, failure to police subcontractors' billing and unauthorized expenses at the Kuwait Hilton Hotel. The list of abuses will likely get longer in 2005, as multiple criminal investigations into Halliburton's work pick up steam.
2. Iraq's Decline. In June 2004 the GAO provided a bleak assessment of Iraq after 14 months of U.S. military occupation, documenting that in critical areas like security, electricity and the judicial system Iraq is worse off now than it was before the war.
3. Abu Ghraib Prison Torture. In late August Maj. Gen. George Fay released an official Army report charging that U.S. military personnel committed torture and that civilian contractors and military intelligence interrogators played a greater role in abusing prisoners than previously thought. The Fay report blamed "a lack of discipline on the part of leaders and soldiers" and a "failure or lack of leadership" by senior military commanders in Iraq.
4. The CIA's Pre-9/11 Intelligence Failures. Early this month The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that the CIA's IG will soon release a report criticizing the CIA's senior leadership for failing to "direct more resources to counterterrorism and inadequately analyz[ing] the threat from al Qaeda" before the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For the first time, a government report will hold senior CIA officials accountable, singling out George Tenet and at least 11 others for "not liv[ing] up to the standards of professional conduct required of them," says the Post.
5. HHS' Deceptive Ad Campaign. In May the GAO concluded that the Health and Human Services Department conducted a secret propaganda campaign that illegally spent taxpayer money to produce and distribute videos touting the administration's Medicare prescription drug law. And this January, the GAO said that the Office of National Drug Control Policy ads warning of the dangers of drug abuse (aired just before last year's Super Bowl) were a form of "covert propaganda" because they promoted their policies without identifying their origin. The ads, said one GAO official, were "paid announcements" at taxpayer expense that shamelessly sought to blur the lines between government propaganda and a legitimate, independent news feature.
6. HHS' Scully Scandal. In September the GAO found that HHS had illegally paid the salary of former Medicare chief Thomas Scully, who threatened to fire veteran Medicare actuary Richard Foster if he told Congress that the administration's Medicare prescription drug legislation would cost $100 billion more than the White House figure. According to The Washington Post , "A 1998 federal law prohibits an agency from paying a federal official who prevents another employee from communicating with Congress."
7. Government-wide Accounting Problems. In December the GAO reported that the federal government's accounting practices are unreliable and might not meet widely accepted accounting standards. The report gives the lie to GOP claims that it is a sound steward of taxpayer money.
8. Sex Education Misinformation. A report that comes to us thanks to Rep. Henry Waxman revealed that most of the government-funded abstinence-only sex education programs were giving students false information. One curriculum rejects "the popular claim that condoms help prevent the spread of STDs [sexually transmitted diseases]" because it "is not supported by the data."
9. CAPPS II's Failures. In February the GAO uncovered significant gaps in privacy protections in the administration's passenger profiling program developed by the Transportation Security Administration. The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) stored personal information in passengers' profiles, provided inadequate appeals procedures and failed to safeguard the accuracy of its databases.
10. The Real Costs of War. In July the GAO criticized the administration for underestimating by $12.3 billion the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This is part of a pattern of deception by the administration, which has repeatedly hidden the real costs of the Iraq invasion and occupation from Congress and the public.
What's in store for 2005? We anticipate scandals to come. But it should be noted that the GAO may face White House-proposed budget cuts and that the Bush administration has developed a hostile policy toward nonpartisan IGs in various federal agencies. Instead of shooting the messenger, the Bush approach is defunding the investigator.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.