One aspect to the

September 17, 2006 1:27 p.m.

One aspect to the outsourcing of the nation’s defense that has gone largely overlooked is the hidden costs associated with long-term mental and physical health care for the tens of thousands of contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Incidentally, the outsourcing isn’t limited to the Department of Defense. Today, the LA Times reports that the number of CIA contract workers has “nearly doubled” in the last five years and now exceeds the full-time permanent workforce of 17,500 employees.

Outsourcing has a number of advantages for the Administration. In addition to awarding donors and supporters with lucrative contracts, it allows the Administration to push costs that would otherwise be incurred by Veterans Affairs, for example, not just off the books but out of government altogether, at least for now. But while those costs may be hidden in the short-term and deferred in the middle-term, they will have to be borne eventually. But instead of being able to address the problems in a comprehensive, cost-effective way, it will be diffused and the burdens carried by individual families and communities. Think of the long-term social costs associated with the veterans returning from Vietnam, but without the government and social service available to veterans. Those services have rarely been as generous as veterans deserve, but at least we had a framework and means for providing such services.

Some will say that contract workers, motivated perhaps by profit, deserve less than our troops. But had it not been for the contract workers, we would have needed more troops. So we would have had to pay the price one way or the other. (Except that in the case of Iraq part of the reason for using contract workers was to avoid the political ramifications of calling up and paying for the number of troops that were actually needed. Had the Administration been straightforward, the political consequence would likely have been no invasion of Iraq to begin with.)

It is another instance where the Administration’s budget gimmickry converges with its political corruption to produce a long-term public policy problem. And as in other similar instances, they simply count on being long gone by the time the reckoning is due.

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