March 23, 2007



The privatization of Walter Reed
by Jim Hightower

The gross mistreatment of our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is disgusting, but there also appears to be a scandal behind the scandal.

The Army Times reports that an internal memorandum sent last year to the head of the center warned that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure." Why? Because of yet another confluence of Bushite ideology and corporate favoritism.

Under George W's "competitive sourcing" directive, the Pentagon has been pushing to privatize as much of its work as possible. In 2006, top officials awarded a $120 million contract to turn Walter Reed's facilities management services over to IAP Worldwide Services, run by two former senior officials at Halliburton. IAP, which brags that Dan Quale is on its board, is the contractor that botched the delivery of ice to New Orleans during the Katrina fiasco.

Last year, knowing that privatization was coming, skilled public employees left Walter Reed in droves. Instead of 300 federal staffers who handled facilities management, IAP has put in only 50 private workers to try to do the job.

The memo to Walter Reed's commanding officer indicates that top army officials had been informed about the dangers that this forced privatization posed to patient care, but the brass did little to prevent them. There had been urgent requests for additional staffers, not only because so many were leaving, but also because the number of patients were increasing as the wounded poured in from Iraq and Afghanistan. The requests were denied.

The conditions at Walter Reed are a disgrace, but its more disgraceful if the patients there were being sacrificed to Bush's obsessive commitment to privatization ideology. This is just one more example of our government being transformed from one of public service into a device for creating private profits.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work — and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown — visit www.jimhightower.com


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