‘Rent-an-Eskimo’

My Monday column about Alaska Native Corporations has drawn some fire as “offensive.” In defense of my critics, I did include the phrase, “rent-an-eskimo,” which was a name given to the racket by critics on Capitol Hill who believed that in essence, big contractors, ruthless consultants, and well-connected lobbyists were using the Alaska natives as front groups in order to win overpriced no-bid government contracts.

But I’m beginning to suspect that officers of these corporations throw the “offensive” label at everyone who does some digging and reports on the corporations’ shady nature. Here, we get the Native American Contractors Association calling Claire McCaskill and Robert O’Harrow “offensive,” for their exposes on the ANCs.

Speaking of these exposes, I highly recommend you read McCaskill’s report [pdf] on the ANCs, but especially read O’Harrow’s excellent reporting on them. Here are some highlights:

  • “Native shareholders have gotten relatively little of the contracting largess. In many cases, the bulk of the money and jobs has gone to nonnative executives, managers, employees and traditional federal contractors in the lower 48 states”
  • The Defense Department and civilian agencies have used the Alaska corporations as a shortcut for a dizzying array of work: intelligence analysis, base security, satellite support, janitorial services, bioterrorism research, computer systems, water tanks in Iraq, support for the drug war in Colombia.

    Few addressed the obvious question: How could small, inexperienced native companies handle giant government contracts? The answer was to hire nonnative executives and workers and partner with established firms, including major Pentagon contractors.

  • The Washington region, not Alaska, is home to the largest concentration of ANC federal-contracting operations. More than 300 subsidiaries have been created nationwide. Of the 35,000 jobs worldwide, only about 10 percent are filled by Alaska native people.

Again, read O’Harrow’s reporting, and you’ll see that Alaska natives do benefit from these special favors, but you’ll probably also conclude that consultants, big defense contractors, and the Alaska Mafia of former congressional staffers benefit the most. And remember, now the ANCs are bankrolling Murkowski’s campaign.

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