COMMENTARY: Alleged kickback scheme sign of larger problem

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The president of Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow, which had offices in the Aquidneck Corporate Park, has been indicted on federal charges that include bilking the taxpayers out of millions for work never done on defense contracts.

The president of this company, a man named Anjan Dutta-Gupta, may well be headed for jail. His employees are on their way to the unemployment line.

So many elements of this case ought to raise the eyebrows and indeed the ire of taxpayers and citizens here in Rhode Island and across the country.

The federal court records show that Dutta-Gupta and his family have been serious supporters of political campaigns, particularly of Rhode Island politicians, including Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Congressman Jim Langevin and even the newest member of the state's Washington delegation, Congressman David Cicilline.

The company received federal earmarks of more than $13 million due to the efforts of Reed and Kennedy. There is no suggestion by federal prosecutors that either Kennedy or Reed did anything wrong.

Which is part of the problem. The Advanced Solutions case trains a jewelers' eye on the incestuous web of relationships among federal defense contractors, lobbyists and politicians. Politicians are supposed to bring home the bacon to their states and districts. Defense contracts and the jobs and campaign cash they provide are a prime vessel for members of Congress.

In recent years, this out-of-control system has become so bloated that it threatens the very lifeblood of our democracy and the solvency of our federal government. The sad truth is that this bloat brings well-paying high-tech jobs to Aquidneck Island and other parts of the state.

Yet, all of this brain power focused on military spending means talented people are building weapons, not better ploughshares.

Congress would do well to recall the warning of the man many historians consider one of the 20th century's most underrated presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II hero general.

It has been 50 years since Eisenhower made his famous farewell speech in which he told the nation that we must curb the power of the permanent war industry, which in alliance with Congress and the Pentagon had assumed too much control over American life and politics.

"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,'' said Eisenhower. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will exist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our civil liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.''

What has happened in the half-century since Ike's speech? Well the Pentagon's budget has more than doubled in the past decade, to about $700 billion a year. Defense and national security spending now consumes about half of all federal discretionary spending.

Even more astonishing, says Boston University history professor Andrew Bacevich, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, is that annual U.S. military spending now just about equals those of all other nations, friends and foes alike.

Some people in Washington are starting to understand this, including President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Senator Reed and Congressman Langevin are both members of the Armed Services Committees, which have significant sway over defense spending. Next time you run into one of them at a town meeting, why not ask what they are doing to bring under control a system that is corrupting and bankrupting our country, from Aquidneck Island to Washington, D.C.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you.