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November 07, 2008

Changing the Culture of Military Contracting
Posted by Michael Cohen

In my day job at the New America Foundation I look at the influence of non-state actors on American foreign policy and today we are unveiling our first research report examining the issue, Changing the Culture of Pentagon Contracting, which examines the relationship between U.S. government agencies and private security, military, and contingency contractors and offers recommendations for managing this relationship in the future. 

You can read the full report here and check out our key conclusions after the jump, which include a call for the U.S. government to begin moving away from the use of security contractors:

A cultural shift is required in which civilian and military leaders take steps to fully integrate private contractors not only into the force structure but also into mission requirements. Without this sort of institutional change, the problems we have experienced in connection with contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue, significantly retarding the military's ability to adjust to the evolving security challenges of the 21st century.

The U.S. government should:

  • Begin to transition away from the use of private security contractors in the battle space and build up the capabilities of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the military police to take on security responsibilities. As this transition takes place, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act should be expanded to govern the actions of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan not currently covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice; improved training of security contractors, vetting of third-country nationals, and third-party accreditation of contractors should be instituted; and interagency coordination between the military and other government agencies should be strengthened.
  • Move away from reliance on the flawed and widely misunderstood term "inherently governmental" in deciding how and when to use private contractors, and instead focus on the question of core competencies and mission success. Congress should permit government agencies to use broad discretionary leeway in determining where and how contractors should be used. Congress should establish red-lined activities that must not be outsourced and require the military to maintain a "resident capacity" for any function it outsources, particularly as it relates to the ability to conduct proper contractual oversight.
  • Designate a high-ranking official in each branch of the military to conduct a top-to-bottom review of how that branch interacts with contractors and where there are areas for greater or lesser reliance on contractors.
  • Strengthen the contractor and acquisition workforce so that it is better equipped to make contracting decisions and to conduct robust oversight and management of contractors. In addition, the Army should develop and support its newly created contracting career field for enlisted personnel and officers.
  • Create a clear chain of command from Secretary of Defense through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and service departments that lays out the responsibilities for contracting and holds commanders accountable for the integration of contractors into the Total Force.
  • Integrate contractor oversight into officer training in all branches of the military.
  • Include contingency contracting as an "area of emphasis" in the 2010 QDR.
  • Create and sustain an enforcement arm of the FBI to conduct overseas investigations of private contractors as well as an extraterritorial U.S. attorney to prosecute criminal behavior.


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If the US continues to follow the COIN doctrine of Nagl and Petreus, it will have no other option than hiring contractors because the United States Army does not have enough soldiers to fight continuous COIN campaigns which last forever since they fail to acheive political solutions. That is why the American military needs to get back to a more conventional doctrine as advolcated by Gian Gentile and Andrew Bacevich if it wants to avoid the use of contractors.

The military has a specific mission to accomplish which requires a mind set focused on those goals and objetives. Unless there is a planned expansion of the military, which is unlikely under the Obama Administration, use of contractors will continue to be a priority. The vetting of private contractors probably could be tightened up to discourage companies from hiring cowboys, loose cannons and others who do not meet professional standards.

I have worked as a civilian contractor in both Afghanistan and Iraq training Poilice Officers. The vast majority of people I worked with were top notch former law enforcement professionals. This type of mission is somethig the military thinks they can do, but are clearly not qualified or trained for. Civilian rule of law is totally different than military rule of law and any country does not want their Police acting like the military.

I have no problems with private contractors being held accountable for their actions both on and off duty while working in another country. That is the way it is at home, why should overseas be any different?

Bottom line is that there will always be private contractors supplementing the military forces wherever there is a problem hotspot.

Hello and I wanted to introduce myself. I am a blogger and security contractor, and my blog Feral Jundi deals directly with the news that impacts my industry. So when this report came out, I was very interested in reading what you guys came up with.
I also recognized a few of the names in the discussion panel, like David Isenberg and Robert Young Pelton. I have read Pelton's books and I read Isenberg's columns on UPI about the industry. Both individuals are pretty good at reporting on some of the aspects of the industry, and I enjoy reading what they have to say.
With that said, let me touch on a few things that I think were either missing or not really correct.

In the report, they mentioned that security contractors should not be involved with PSD missions or Convoy missions. This is dead wrong, and I really don't how you guys came up with this conclusion. You realize that some bases out there in this war were completely civilian with maybe one military liaison. The CMC projects come to mind, and security contractors were vital in supplying water, fuel, and food to these outposts. With your recommendations, Military units would be tasked with supplying these civilian outposts. To only allow military units to do convoy operations, would be severely limiting to operations. Civilian operations must have the freedom to conduct these vital operations, and they are certainly necessary.

Also, it was mentioned in the comments section that we just do not have the troops to back fill for security contractors. According to your study, you guys said there were 12,000 plus security contractors operating in this war? That is shooters, not logistics. Tell me where the US military will get that many shooters at? It would require a massive recruiting effort, and certainly cost more money to do so. Will President Elect Obama ask the youth that voted for him, to join the military and fight in the war? I don't know, but at this point, I just don't see the him doing that. And with Isenberg's latest article about Obama and security contracting, that only confirmed this.

We are a necessary part of the war effort. And as someone that has done the job with several companies in Iraq, I know we can do the job and have done the job. I also salute any ways we can put some accountability into the system, but that would require an effort on the DoD and DoS to figure that out. We work for the government, not vice versa. It is on the client to dictate what we can or can't do, and to enforce the rules and laws laid down within the contracts. The problems I see, are a lack of manpower to manage the contracts, and the proper quality control measures to ensure contractors are doing what they are supposed to do. And for that, I totally applaud the portion of the report that talks about this.

But I do not support the idea of limiting our capability or survival in war zones. We are a tool in the tool box of the government, and like the knife, we must be used properly so you do not break the blade. We do need to be sharpened every once in awhile, and used safely. But we are a tool that has many uses for the government, and if used and maintained properly, we can certainly do great things.

Another thing I would advise, is to to study the federal forest fire fighting industry. This industry has an excellent system that coordinates under the Incident Command System. They use civilian fire fighting contractors, federal fire fighters, and state fire fighters, and bring them all together to fight forest fires every summer. The DoD and DoS can learn a lot from this industry on how to combine civilian and federal resources and send them into extremely dangerous environments. The ICQS (red card) system should be looked at too. Feel free to contact me to learn more. I have written about Incident Command and security contracting before, and I do think a system like it could be applied. Or just contact someone at NIFC(National Inter-agency Fire Center) to learn more. Cheers. -Matt

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The vetting of private contractors probably could be tightened up to discourage companies from hiring cowboys, loose cannons and others who do not meet professional standards.

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