Washington has paid out billions of dollars to contractors for counternarcotics operations in Latin America in recent years -- but a recent review reveals that these funds are poorly monitored, and may be misspent.
According to an investigation released on June 8 by the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, the State and Defense Departments paid U.S. subcontractors about $3.1 billion between 2005 and 2009 to spray illicit coca crops, train police and provide logistics support to local intelligence officials in Latin America.
Of this funding, the biggest share of counternarcotics contracts in Latin America went to Dyncorp, which received 36 percent of total contract money in the region. In fact, Dyncorp, along with only four other companies -- Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT, and ARIN -- received the majority of such funding overall, amounting to nearly 60 percent of all U.S. anti-drug contracts in that period.
As the report notes, although the use of these contractors increased by 32 percent across the four-year period, the federal government does not have a “standardized system” in place to evaluate the performance of these counternarcotics contracts. This finding was also highlighted by officials in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in their May 2011 review of the State Department’s counternarcotics program. As a result, some claim that there is no effective way to monitor the activity of these companies and ensure it remains lawful.
In a statement on her website, the Subcommittee chair Claire McCaskill (D-MO) claimed that this amounts to a failure in management, saying the U.S. is “wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we're getting in return.”
Interestingly, the Senator has also used her subcommittee position to denounce not just the lack of oversight of U.S. drug policy, but its efficacy as well. "It's becoming increasingly clear that our efforts to rein in the narcotics trade in Latin America, especially as it relates to the government's use of contractors, have largely failed,” said McCaskill.
Officials in the White House have loudly rejected such claims, and said that they are doing much more than previous administrations to stop the northward flow of drugs. According to a recent LA Times article, the Department of Homeland Security has seized 31 percent more drugs, 75 percent more cash and 64 percent more weapons under the Obama administration than in the previous two and a half years.
While this may be true for recent years, the data on overall cocaine prices does not seem to reflect a reduction in supply, as InSight has pointed out. Instead, the long term price trend is overwhelmingly downward.
Ultimately, however, neither the issue of seizures or accountability is the major problem with U.S. drug policy. Drug trafficking is estimated to be a $35 billion per year industry, which is driven almost entirely by the high rates of drug consumption in the U.S. Until officials in this country effectively drive down this massive level demand, it is unlikely for either oversight reforms or increases in drug operations to end this hemisphere’s drug-fueled violence.