Hope and Change: No-bid war contract goes to Dem donor

Barack Obama repeatedly blasted the Bush administration for its supposed predilection for giving war contracts out on a no-bid basis to political cronies, and promised to change things once elected as President.  And he has, according to Fox News — he’s changed the recipients:

Despite President Obama’s long history of criticizing the Bush administration for “sweetheart deals” with favored contractors, the Obama administration this month awarded a $25 million federal contract for work in Afghanistan to a company owned by a Democratic campaign contributor without entertaining competitive bids, Fox News has learned.

The contract, awarded on Jan. 4 to Checchi & Company Consulting, Inc., a Washington-based firm owned by economist and Democratic donor Vincent V. Checchi, will pay the firm $24,673,427 to provide “rule of law stabilization services” in war-torn Afghanistan.

A synopsis of the contract published on the USAID Web site says Checchi & Company will “train the next generation of legal professionals” throughout the Afghan provinces and thereby “develop the capacity of Afghanistan’s justice system to be accessible, reliable, and fair.”

The legality of the arrangement as a “sole source,” or no-bid, contract was made possible by virtue of a waiver signed by the USAID administrator. “They cancelled the open bid on this when they came to power earlier this year,” a source familiar with the federal contracting process told Fox News.

“That’s kind of weird,” said another source, who has worked on “rule of law” issues in both Afghanistan and Iraq, about the no-bid contract to Checchi & Company. “There’s lots of companies and non-governmental organizations that do this sort of work.”

Kind of weird?  Not really, and it’s not anything terribly unusual in Washington DC, either.  Campaign donors and lobbyists get favors for spreading the money around, both on Capitol Hill and in the White House.  It’s a feedback loop to power; those favored with contracts get more money to make more donations to the people who get them the contracts.  This is the main reason why pork is so corrosive to clean government.

A $25 million contract is relatively small potatoes on its face, but it’s that feedback loop that is the most concerning aspect of this — as well as Obama’s hypocritical attack on lobbyists during the campaign.  It’s no accident that the lobbying industry had a banner year in 2009 despite the economic downturn, as Obama’s expansion of government creates a bigger spoils system such as this.

During the Bush years, the Left used to chant “Halliburton!” to attack Bush on this point, but the vast majority of parent company KBR’s contracts came from competitive bidding, as high as 98% in 2007 and 99.8% in 2008.

Update: Interestingly, according to FedSpending.org, the new contract is about a third of what Checchi got over the previous eight years put together — 92% of which came in full competition.  Suddenly, in the Obama administration, Checchi gets a pass from competition and a big contract to go along with it.  Hope and (Spare) Change!

Update II: Looks like Vincent and Adam Checchi maxed out their donations to Obama in the last election cycle.  Together with their employees, Checchi donated over $14,000 to Democratic presidential candidates.  They also tossed a few spare dollars to the DNC and MoveOn.

Update III: Real Clear Politics has Obama himself invoking Halliburton while saying that the days of “sweetheart deals” to campaign donors and lobbyists would be over if he was elected President.