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Pentagon medical contracting is redundant and wasteful, watchdog says

In addition to the military’s own medics, the Pentagon spends $1 billion a year hiring private healthcare providers to treat troops and their families.  And the system remains fractured, disorganized and overlapping despite years of warnings, according to  a Government Accountability Office report that concludes millions of tax dollars are being wasted.

“The Department of Defense does not have a consolidated agency-wide acquisition strategy for medical services,” the GAO said.  “In the absence of such a strategy, contracting for health care professionals is largely fragmented.”

The Pentagon’s healthcare system is large, employing more than 150,000 military and civilian personnel.  Of those, just over 11,000 are contractors.  Meanwhile, the department’s medical budget is an estimated $50 billion annually.  The contracts with healthcare professionals cost $1.14 billion in 2011.  

The problem, GAO said, is that the branches of service don’t communicate or coordinate their medical needs or contracts, leading to multiple contractors performing the same work.

“Under the direct care system, each military department recruits, trains, and funds its own medical personnel to administer medical programs and provide medical services to beneficiaries,” the GAO said.

Every dollar helps, and money that is being wasted in overlapping medical contracts could instead be put to use for PTSD treatment programs, or sexual assault prevention – a topic the military has been grappling with recently.

For a disorganized and potentially wasteful approach to hiring needed medical staff, the Defense Department wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by the Washington Guardian to examples of budget duplication and waste.

Pentagon officials agreed with the GAO’s assessment that medical contracting could be better organized and said the department is “at an opportune time to revisit” its military health system and make changes.

Investigators, however, noted the Pentagon has been warned for years that the programs are wasting money, and described the Pentagon’s actions as “moving forward incrementally.”

“Over the last nine years, various DOD groups as well as GAO have recommended that DOD take steps toward such a strategy, but DOD still does not have an agency-wide acquisition strategy to consolidate these requirements,” the GAO said.  “As health care consumes an increasingly large portion of the defense budget, DOD leadership has recognized the need to reduce duplication and overhead, and operate the most efficient health system possible.”

Medicals contractors aren’t the only area where the military branches of service aren’t talking to one another.  The Washington Guardian reported earlier this week that the GAO also believes military uniform programs are overlapping, and the services should work together to develop joint camouflage patterns.


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