WASHINGTON – Military contracts in the Iraq theater have cost taxpayers at least $85 billion, and when it comes to providing security, they might not be any cheaper than using military personnel, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Congressional Budget Office report comes on the heels of increased scrutiny of contractors in the last year, some of whom have been investigated in connection with shooting deaths of Iraqis and the accidental electrocutions of U.S. troops.
The United States has relied more heavily on contractors in Iraq than in any other war to provide services ranging from food service to guarding diplomats. About 20 percent of funding for operations in Iraq has gone to contractors, the report said.
Currently, there are at least 190,000 contractors in Iraq and neighboring countries, a ratio of about one contractor per U.S. service member, the report says.
The study does not include monetary figures for 2008, so the total paid to contractors for work in the Iraq theater since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is probably much higher. If spending for contractors continues at about the same rate, by the end of the year, an estimated $100 billion will have been paid to military contractors for operations in Iraq.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Budget Committee, which requested the CBO review, said the Bush administration’s reliance on military contractors has set a dangerous precedent.
The use of contractors “restricts accountability and oversight; opens the door to corruption and abuse; and, in some instances, may significantly increase the cost to American taxpayers,” Conrad said in a statement.
The death of a Green Beret from Pittsburgh, Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who was electrocuted in January while showering in Iraq, prompted a House committee oversight hearing last month into whether contractor KBR Inc. has properly handled the electrical work at bases it is charged with maintaining. The military has also said that five other deaths were due to improperly installed or maintained electrical devices, according to a congressional report.
Senators have also been looking into the electrical work done by contractors.
In a separate matter, a federal grand jury is investigating whether Blackwater Worldwide guards acted illegally when they opened fire in a busy Baghdad intersection last September. Seventeen Iraqis died and the shooting strained US-Iraqi relations.
The Justice Department is expected to decide soon whether to bring charges. The company itself is not expected to be prosecuted.
The CBO estimated Tuesday that $6 billion to $10 billion has been spent on security work and that the prices paid are comparable to a U.S. military unit doing that work. It estimated that about 25,000-30,000 employees of security firms were in Iraq as of early 2008.