With even more U.S. contractors now in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military personnel, government officials told Congress yesterday that the Bush administration is not prepared to manage the contractors' critical involvement in the American war effort.
At the end of last September, there were "over 196,000 contractor personnel working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness.
Contractors "have become part of our total force, a concept that DoD [the Defense Department] must manage on an integrated basis with our military forces," he also said in prepared testimony for a hearing yesterday of the Senate homeland security subcommittee. "Frankly," he continued, "we were not adequately prepared to address" what he termed "this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors."
Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, and William M. Solis, director of defense capabilities and management for the Government Accountability Office, testified that not enough trained service personnel are available to handle outsourcing to contractors in the wars.
Solis said a military officer with a Stryker brigade deployed in Iraq had told the GAO about a contractor that had mishandled security screenings of Iraqis and foreigners. In the end, Solis said, the officer used his own personnel to accomplish the task, diverting staff from "their primary intelligence gathering responsibilities."
Retired Army Gen. David M. Maddox, who has studied the contracting effort in Iraq as a member of an Army-appointed commission, said in his statement that it "has not fully recognized the impact of a large number of contractors" and "their potential impact to mission success."
Maddox said the Army had five general officer positions for career contracting professionals in 1990 but has none today. The two-star general who runs the Joint Contracting Command for Iraq/Afghanistan, Maddox said, is an Air Force officer.
Maddox added that 3 percent of Army contracting personnel are active-duty and that the acquisition workforce shrunk by 25 percent from 1990 to the end of fiscal 2000. While the contracting workload has increased sevenfold since 2000, he said, about half of the military officers and Army civilians in the contracting field "are certified for their current positions."
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the subcommittee's chairman, noted that the Defense Contract Audit Agency has reported that $10 billion of about $57 billion in contracts for services and reconstruction in Iraq "is either questionable or cannot be supported because of a lack of contractor information needed to assess costs." He added that more than 80 separate criminal investigations are underway involving contracts of more than $5 billion.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a subcommittee member who has investigated the contract issue during her trips to Iraq and Kuwait, stressed that "if people are not fired or demoted or if there is not a failure to promote in the military because of massive failure of appropriate oversight and management, things will not change."
But when she asked Bowen and Solis if they knew of anyone who had been fired or denied promotion because of contracting mistakes disclosed in more than 300 reports over five years, they said they knew of none.
By Walter Pincus
The Washington Post -------