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Pentagon Rewriting Rules for Contractors
Military's use of civilian contract workers not always in conformity to regulations, officials admit.
By Leon Worden
Signal City Editor
Friday, June 25, 2004
he Defense Department is rewriting the rules for the use of private civilian contractors because the military isn't always using them in accordance with code, officials said.
"Existing policy does not capture lessons from recent operations, nor does (the Pentagon) have a single directive to address the issues of contractor personnel management," Michael W. Wynne, acting defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee on Thursday.
Wynne said the Pentagon's new rules should be completed in October.
Several contract management problems have surfaced in recent weeks amid revelations that civilian workers, including an Iraqi-American linguist from Canyon Country, were involved in intelligence gathering at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"Intelligence gathering, especially interrogations, have to be done by Army (personnel), not civilians," Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, the House panel's ranking Democrat, told The Signal. "It's a big mess, to be honest, because we don't know what criteria they used to hire them."
An Army policy issued in 2000 defines tactical intelligence gathering as "an inherently governmental function barred from private sector performance."
Thursday's hearing was the Defense Department's first acknowledgment that it is making good on a 2003 General Services Administration directive to get a better handle on its contracting practices, Ortiz said.
Conceding that certain practices in the field may not conform to regulations, Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the public scrutiny of operations in Iraq "brought to light that there needs to be some uniformity" in contract management across the various military branches.
He said other government departments will be involved in the review, such as the Interior Department, which manages the Army's contract for interrogators at Abu Ghraib.
Wynne told the House subcommittee that for the first time ever, the Defense Department has spent more money over the last five years on contract services i.e., labor than on weapons, goods, supplies and equipment.
He said the Pentagon's "general reduction of internal resources" has been spurred by the government's overall desire to "compete their commercial functions with industry."
Ortiz said he wants to know if the increased reliance on contractors has actually trimmed costs.
"Civilian contractors do a very important and very essential job," Ortiz said, "but can't we train the military to do these things?"
Some regulations don't make sense, Ortiz said, like the one that prohibits civilians from carrying guns even when they're escorting convoys through war zones.
"We were concerned," he said. "When they're injured, disabled or killed, who pays? Is it the family, the company, or the government? There were a lot of questions they (Pentagon officials) couldn't answer."
Wynne testified that there is "significant controversy over the policy of whether contractors should carry weapons, and under which circumstances the combatant commander can issue directions to contractors."
Army commanders aren't supposed to give direct orders to civilian contractors, as specified in Army Regulation 715-9, "Contractors Accompanying the Force." At Abu Ghraib, civilian interrogators and interpreters answered directly to military intelligence commanders, several sources have said.
Rather than simply back-filling the rule books to fit a new paradigm, there should be a broader discussion of the functions of contractors, said Peter Singer, a military contracting analyst at The Brookings Institution.
"We need to assess for ourselves what roles are appropriate to outsource," Singer said.
"Military doctrine has long held, and it still holds today, that anything that affects the success of the mission should not be contracted out," he said. "We have this great doctrine, and we ignore it."
Step one, he said, should be an accounting of how many contractors there are, what they're doing and how much they're paid.
"It's amusing but it's sad," he said. "Not only don't we know if (the contract functions) are appropriate, but we don't know if we're saving money."
While the Army doesn't track numbers of individual workers, it has awarded 2,800 contracts worth $11.7 billion for various jobs in Iraq, Tina Ballard, the Army undersecretary for policy and procurement, told the House panel.
Singer welcomed the Pentagon's willingness to take a fresh look at its contracting policies.
"It makes you hope the 12-step thing is right," he said. "The first thing is admitting you've got a problem. It used to be 'no comment' or they would deny it."
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita and the Readiness Subcommittee's second-ranking Republican, didn't return calls about Thursday's hearing.
His press deputy called the hearing "an important first step" and said McKeon will "continue to investigate ... the planning, guidance and oversight" of contract employees. He said McKeon attended the hearing but didn't question speakers.
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