Remembering Charles M. Smith, Army contracting whistleblower

Charles M. Smith Sr. [photo] , aged 65, died of a heart attack on January 29 at his home in Davenport, Iowa.  As Chief of HQ, ArmyField Support Command, he had refused to approve “$1 billion in questionable payments” to KBR, a provider of food and housing to troops in Iraq.

Smith was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University and a master’s degree from Harvard University. He went to work for the Army as a contracting specialist at Rock Island Arsenal. For years, things went well, and he received the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award.

In August, 2004, Smith refused to approve more than $1 billion in questionable payments to Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR)–a contractor with White House connections and a key provider of logistics support– food, housing and other services–to US troops.

[O]ne of the main points of contention was related to $200 million in costs which he says KBR could not justify for troop dining facilities. He said in August 2004, as he was moving to sanction KBR, a general told him not to withhold any money from the contractor. Smith says within hours he was told that he “was no longer a part of the program.” [CBS News, 2009]

After forcing Smith from his position, the Army ultimately paid most of KBR’s claims, reportedly out of fear that support to the troops would suffer. Under continued pressure at work, Smith retired early,  at the age of 61.

In retirement, Smith testified to Congress about the Army’s handling of the KBR contract.  James Risen wrote in an article for the New York Times,”Smith’s account fills in crucial gaps about the Pentagon’s handling of the KBR contract, which has cost more than $20 billion and has come under criticism from lawmakers.” Senators Carl Levin and John McCain sent a letter to the DoD Inspector General requesting a new investigation of the contractor on the basis of Smith’s testimony.

Smith recounted his experiences on his website, on, and in a book, “War for Profit,”  The book provides a few details of his early life.

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1950s. My father was a decorated Navy officer, serving in World War II and the Korean War. My mother was a public school teacher who taught at a school with very disadvantaged children. Integrity, loyalty and public service were important, as was education. Thus, I earned a BA in Philosophy and Economics and did some graduate study before setting out to earn a living for my family.

Smith wrote about a complex “web of loyalties” that included “loyalties to the troops, to the US citizens who paid my salary, to the Army, and to my coworkers.”

Oxford philosopher J. R. Lucas writes, “A loyal public servant does not discharge his duty by simply doing what he is told, but must tell the truth, even to his own disadvantage.” I have taken this precept to heart and continue to tell the truth about the LOGCAP program, even after I have left public employment. When I worked for the Army, I always told the truth to leadership, even when I knew the[y] disagreed in advance. This has never been a popular way to advance your career. [Smith, 2012]

Dina Rasor, who collaborated with Smith on projects, published a tribute to the man she said “came the closest I have seen in my career to the ideal of what a whistle-blower should be.”

The world has lost a truly cheerful soul. I have had many sources and whistle-blowers say that they would do the right thing if they thought they could get away with it. Charlie Smith did the right thing and didn’t get away with it. But he went on, despite the professional humiliation, to keep on fighting in other arenas, mostly for free, to continue to try to right wrongs and not to succumb to bitterness while many of the people who oppressed him went on to lucrative gigs from their own self-dealing while in government. [D. Rasor]

Smith is survived by wife Janice, brother Frank G. Smith, sister Francie Cuffney, son Charles M. Smith Jr., daughters Meg Smith and Sarah Smith, and two grandchildren. Contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association.

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Dignity Memorial Guest book for Charles M. Smith

Quad-City Times Obituary for Charles M. Smith