The Multinational Monitor


B O O K   R E V I E W

Exposing the Pentagon

The Pentagonists: An Insider's View of Waste,
Mismanagement and Fraud in Defense Spending
by A. Ernest Fitzgerald
344 pages, $19.95
Reviewed by Elizabeth Hax

A. Ernest Fitzgerald is not a popular man within the military- industrial-government complex. After reading his book, The Pentagonists: An Insider's View of Waste, Mismanagement and Fraud in Defense Spending, it is easy to understand why. In the late 1960s, while performing his Pentagon job of investigating the abuses the title of his book suggests, Fitzgerald uncovered cost overruns, technical problems and a cover-up in the production of the Lockheed C-5A transport plane. His discovery was not unusual; what he did about it was. Fitzgerald broke the tacit code of silence, which to this day pervades the Pentagon, and testified before Congress about the C-5A's troubles. The government, for all of his honest effort, accused the author of revealing classified information and fired him.

His firing marked the beginning of a 20-year odyssey in the Pentagon during which Fitzgerald discovered massive government corruption, secrecy and fraud. Fitzgerald managed to maintain his sanity and humor throughout his travails, including a four year legal battle to get reinstated after the C-5A episode.

The Pentagonists details executive efforts to hamper Congress' information gathering capacity by discouraging whistleblowers from divulging corrupt military practices by punishing them instead of rewarding them. In 1981, for example, the Reagan administration, like its predecessors, created SF 189 (Standard Form 189). This gag order placed those asked to sign in a no-win situation. If they refused to sign, their security clearance would be revoked and they would, in effect, lose their jobs. If they did sign, they could be punished for "security" violations. For example, SF 189 allowed the government retroactively to classify information that was previously unclassified. In this way, the government could arbitrarily incriminate any federal worker who revealed embarrassing information that was not, however, classified at the time of disclosure. Fitzgerald refused to sign and in 1987 he was told that if he didn't sign in 30 days, he would lose his security clearance. Although the threat eventually proved to be hollow, it made headlines and drew Congress, public interest lawyers and the media into the fray.

Establishing "blue-ribbon commissions" is another technique by which the executive branch seeks to limit public and Congressional scrutiny of its operations. The prominent members of these panels assure the public that they will pinpoint and solve the Pentagon's problems, thus dampening public outrage at accusations of large-scale impropriety. The commissions themselves, however, are often beset by serious conflict of interest problems. In 1985, for instance, President Reagan named David Packard as chairman of the President's "Blue Ribbon Commission" on Defense Management. Fitzgerald writes:

In naming David Packard as chairman, the administration couldn't have found a man better equipped with massive conflicts of interest. This multimillionaire industrialist, chairman of the board of Hewlett-Packard, a big defense contractor and a supplier to even bigger contractors, was also a member of Boeing's board of directors. And, as Nixon's deputy secretary of defense, he had managed the billion-dollar Lockheed bailout after the C-5A disaster. (Lockheed was a customer of Hewlett- Packard.)

The MX missile program illustrates the disastrous effects these relationships have on management practices at construction sites. Investigators led by Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, uncovered corruption at the Northrop plant in Hawthorne, California, the assembly plant for the missile project which Fitzgerald was sent to investigate. As a result of confusion in the ordering department, Northrop accumulated parts it didn't need, many of them silver or gold plated, intricately constructed and classified. At one point, the "allegators" (Northrop officials' name for "those who allege") pulled together 83 bankers' boxes full of missile guidance parts that had been thrown into a dumpster; parts which Northrop had billed to the government.

When Fitzgerald inquired about these problems, he was given the runaround, the amusing details of which he relates in the book. The unfortunate result of all of this was the cancellation by an Air Force general of Fitzgerald's assignment to Dingell's committee.

The book also recounts details of Pentagon waste that made headlines in 1988--stories of $7,622 coffee pots, $670 passenger seat armrests and many other spare parts that did not even work- -and offers a thorough explanation of how the outrageous prices are set.

Fitzgerald concludes, in a chapter titled "The Corporate State," that the business culture of the defense industry has spread throughout the U.S. economy, significantly impairing its productivity. The Pentagon's inefficient pricing system has infiltrated business school classes and even hospitals, driving up health care costs. By refusing to submit to the vagaries of the market and demanding government subsidies in advance of production, the defense industry has helped to erode the United States' competitive capabilities.

Just as the Pentagon contractors' bad work habits and worse management practices were encouraged and spread throughout the United States' corporate body, so did the notion of corporate communism. Every big corporation seemed to think it had a right to be kept alive, no matter how poorly it performed. The sloppier and more unsuccessful the management, the more it insisted on bailouts and protection from competition.

Shedding light on one of the most powerful and secretive institutions in the world, The Pentagonists is a must for federal workers, elected officials and taxpayers.

Table of Contents