Opinion

Walter Reed: The power of privatization

Surely by now, you have all heard about the atrocious conditions and horrifying treatment of wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Those lucky enough to return from Iraq with their lives, but perhaps without limbs or vision, have to endure medical conditions not worthy of their service. How did this happen here? In America? The bottom line might be a good place to start.

In February 2006, the Government Accountability Office announced that they were privatizing support services at Walter Reed. Over Democratic objections, the contract was awarded to IAP Worldwide Services. Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reported that the “decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed led to a precipitous drop in support personnel at Walter Reed.” The number of support personnel dropped from 300 to under 60 the day before IAP took over. IAP then replaced the remaining 60 federal employees with 50 IAP personnel.

It was indeed more cost effective to hire a private company to perform these services at Walter Reed, but hopefully I’m not alone in prioritizing patient care over the bottom line. I don’t care if it’s less cost effective; our wounded soldiers must be treated right!

Unfortunately, this is not just a tale of the Republican practice of placing the bottom line over all else. Not surprisingly, cronyism is also at play. Prior to their tenure at IAP, CEO Al Neffgen and the appropriately-named President David Swindle held executive positions at a place called Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR). KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton while Dick Cheney was CEO. Yes, that’s the same Dick “last throes” Cheney whose stock in Halliburton has risen over 3000% since he left the company to become Vice President. Aside from “making it happen.all over the world,” IAP is also a Political Action Committee which raised money for Republicans in the 2006 election cycle.

The Walter Reed tragedy is not the only newsworthy item of late that is a direct result of conservative policies. Remember the tainted spinach? Republicans under-funded and under-staffed the FDA. While the FDA may represent to me the last line of defense to keep unsafe food and drugs from harming the public, these conservatives see it as unnecessary regulation. The Sago Mine disaster is another tragedy facilitated by cronyism and by contempt for federal regulation.

I’ve noticed that libertarianism is becoming increasingly chic among our generation. Republicans have given us a taste of libertarian economic policies, and they don’t taste good. Laissez-faire may look good on paper and may sound good in an academic setting, but in reality, it is harmful. Whether the philosophy of “the less government, the better” or simply the bottom line drove Walter Reed to privatization, our country abdicated its responsibility to care for its soldiers. We should be ashamed.

Good thing Democrats are in control to keep any more of these right-wing economic policies from seeing the light of day. President Shalala, can you help us sort this thing out?

Chris Fisher is a senior majoring in motion pictures and political science. He can be contacted at c.fisher2@umiami.edu.

March 9, 2007

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Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.