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On the March 10 edition of Fox News Watch, in response to criticism that privatization of support staff services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) contributed to deteriorating conditions and inadequate care, Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton asserted that "the dreaded privatization at Walter Reed began in the year 2000," when Bill Clinton was president. Pinkerton then asked: "Now who was president in the year 2000? It wasn't George Bush." But actual "privatization" did not begin in 2000. That year, the "process of considering Walter Reed" for public-/private-sector bidding competitions began, according to a March 2 letter from two senior Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The contract with a private firm to operate and maintain facilities at Walter Reed was not entered until January 2006.
On March 10, The Washington Post reported that the "scandal over treatment of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has focused attention on the Army's decision to privatize the facilities support workforce at the hospital, a move commanders say left the building maintenance staff undermanned." As noted in the March 2 letter -- from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs -- requesting testimony from Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the former commander of Walter Reed, while the process for considering whether to have federal workers compete against the private sector to carry out services at the facility began in 2000, the work was not awarded to a private contractor until January 2006. According to the Post, the Army awarded IAP Worldwide Services, "a contractor with connections to the Bush administration and to KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary," a contract to provide support staff at WRAMC. Although IAP did not take over management at Walter Reed until February 2007, the decision to privatize the medical center's support staff in January 2006 led to what the congressmen called "an exodus of 'highly skilled and experienced personnel.' " From Waxman and Tierney's March 2 letter:
According to multiple sources, the decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed led to a precipitous drop in support personnel at Walter Reed. Prior to the award of the contract, there were over 300 federal employees providing facilities management and related services at Walter Reed. By February 3, 2007, the day before IAP took over facilities management, the number of support personnel had dropped to under 60. Yet instead of hiring additional personnel, IAP apparently replaced the remaining 60 federal employees with only 50 IAP personnel.
Moreover, in a September 21, 2006, internal memo -- which Waxman and Tierney cited in their letter -- Col. Peter M. Garibaldi, Walter Reed's garrison commander, warned top officials at the facility that the privatization plan was out of date and did not take into account the hospital's increased workload following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:
Since the Army initiated the A-76 [privatization] study in 2000, the current workload in the hospital and garrison missions has grown significantly in the past six years due to our need to care for and support Wounded Warriors from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and other outcomes of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). As a result, the Army performed the competition with dated workload data and expectations created before the GWOT began in 2001. Now we need more personnel than the study had anticipated.
Garibaldi added that, due to the increased post-9-11 workload, the support staff turnover would likely create an "under-lap" of personnel that could have a negative effect on patients:
The bump and retreat process that follows RIF [reduction-in-force] will impact the Hospital's patient care mission as highly skilled and experienced personnel in the current workforce are moved in to other jobs or involuntarily separated. The danger of an "under-lap" of personnel to perform vital functions could decrease our ability to complete the garrison mission and provide world class patient care.
As Garibaldi explained, while the privatization plan initially called for retaining only 25 government personnel in support staff positions, the Walter Reed leadership had submitted a request in early 2006 that this number be increased to 63, citing "a better understanding of the greater workload requirements." But according to Garibaldi, the Army ultimately settled on a total of 26. He concluded the memo by asserting that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure."
Further, the Post article also reported that the decision to award IAP the services contract "reversed a 2004 finding by the Army that it would be more cost-effective to keep the work in-house." The Post continued: "After IAP protested, Army auditors ruled that the cost estimates offered by in-house federal workers were too low. They had to submit a new bid, which added 23 employees and $16 million to their cost, according to the Army."
From the March 10 edition of Fox News Watch:
NEAL GABLER (media writer): But -- but here is -- here is something that the media is not good at, and that is the larger issue. The larger issue is: How did we get here?
Lisa Myers had an excellent report on Wednesday's NBC broadcast about the privatization at Walter Reed, and how that contributed to both the cut in staff and to inferior treatment. And by the way, the company that was privatized at Walter Reed had botched Katrina completely in delivering ice.
I think that media has not yet talked about how unprepared the administration was for the casualties in Iraq. And I think that the media have really not discussed the budget cuts in Veterans Affairs that -- these are major, major, major issues, and they ought to be discussed in the media.
JANE HALL (American University professor): I think the politicization of a lot of these agencies -- I mean, people are comparing it to Katrina, because when Jim Nicholson, the head of the VA, was asked about a program two or three years ago on the evening news that would have had computers allowing them to talk to each other among agencies, he didn't even know about it.
PINKERTON: Hold on -- this is worth nothing, both Neal and Jane have both managed to work in Katrina.
HALL: But they're asking if it's being overdone, and I say no.
PINKERTON: OK, and I'm saying maybe -- maybe I'm starting to agree with E.D. [Hill, panelist and Fox News host].
Maybe -- and then they're -- look, there's plenty of time to get the story all sorted out, including the fact that the dreaded privatization at Walter Reed began in the year 2000. Now who was president in the year 2000? It wasn't George Bush.