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February 01, 2010

More of the Same From the Pentagon on Contracting
Posted by Michael Cohen

So the QDR is finally out . . .and over at attackerman Spencer is doing a nice job of picking out some of the juicier highlights. He seems to like this:

In keeping with the Administration’s goal of reducing the taxpayer’s dependence on contractors, the Department introduced its in-sourcing initiative  in the [fiscal year] 2010 budget. Over the next five years, the Department will reduce the number of support service contractors to their pre-2001 level of 26 percent of the workforce (from the current level of 39 percent) and replace them, if needed, with full-time government employees. These efforts will help us establish a balanced total workforce of military, government civilians and contractor personnel that more appropriately aligns public- and private-sector functions, and results in better value for the taxpayer.

It's hard to get excited about a statement like this, but it's reflective of the Pentagon's continued refusal to deal seriously with the question of how it utilizes contractors. Indeed, the language feels like the exact same thing Gates and others at the Pentagon were saying a year ago on this issue. But then as now; using arbitrary percentages to decide how many service contractors you will utilize is a truly unserious way to address the contractor question. 

It comes at the expense of asking critically important questions about core competencies; about how contractors contribute to mission success; or about how contractors can be more effectively integrated into the total force. Considering that as in Iraq there are today more contractors than troops in Afghanistan, these are precisely the kinds of questions that the Pentagon needs to be asking. But with the QDR only using the word "contractors" 12 times in a 128 page document one gets the pretty clear sense they haven't.

The bottom line is that there is nothing inherently wrong with having 39% of the Pentagon workforce filled by contractors, particularly since these private actors often perform tasks for which DoD lacks a core competency or where a surge force is needed. But this only works if DoD has thought long and hard about how they plan to use this private force and how they will conduct oversight of them.  What continues to be needed is an institutional-wide, top-to-bottom review of how each branch interacts with contractors and highlight areas for greater or lesser reliance on them (in short, the entire Pentagon needs to its own version of the Army's Gansler Report).

In an odd way, the use of arbitrary percentages is reminiscent of how we got into this contractor mess in the first place. Spencer refers to the post 9/11 contractor boom, but the rising use of contractors began well before September 2001. It started when the Clinton Administration decided they needed to shrink the size of government by outsourcing more and more government responsibilities to the private sector, with precious little consideration for what jobs belonged in-house and which ones could be outsourced. So it wasn't government that decreased in the 1990s; it was the number of people in the private sector taking on once public responsibilities that jumped.

More than a year ago, I wrote this about the contractor phenomenon:

A failure to accept the inevitability of contractors as a key element of the military force structure has contributed to inertia and an abdication of responsibility for managing the interaction between government departments and private 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.

Nothing that I read in this leaked QDR document leads me to believe that the Pentagon has used the QDR process to seriously address these issues.


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Good luck, Michael, because the business of America is business, and the US is moving away from a "socialized" military into a more profitable realm.

Would you deprive retired military officers, now beltway bandits, of their sweetheart war contracts? And Diane Feinstein's hubby of his huge construction contracts which paid for the fine San Fran mansion they reside in?

Don't think of it as wasteful corruption, think of it as increasing the tooth-to-tail ratio in the military -- that's how it's justified.

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