December 16, 2009 in Nation/World

Surge in contractors expected

56,000 from private sector may go to Afghanistan
Walter Pincus Washington Post
 

WASHINGTON – The surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan could be accompanied by a surge of up to 56,000 contractors, vastly expanding the presence of personnel from the U.S. private sector in a war zone, according to a new study by the Congressional Research Service.

CRS, which provides background information to members of Congress on a bipartisan basis, said it expects an additional 26,000 to 56,000 contractors to be sent to Afghanistan. That would bring the total number of contractors in the country to between 130,000 to 160,000.

The tally “could increase further if the new (administration) strategy includes a more robust construction and nation building effort,” according to the report, which was released Monday.

Contractors made up 69 percent of the Pentagon’s personnel in Afghanistan last December, a proportion that “apparently represented the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by the Defense Department in any conflict in the history of the United States,” the CRS study says. As of September, contractor representation had dropped to 62 percent, as U.S. troop strength increased modestly.

As the Pentagon contracts out activities that previously had been carried out by soldiers in wartime, it has been forced to struggle with new management challenges.

“Prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, contracting was done on an ad-hoc basis and was not adequately incorporated into the doctrine – or culture – of the military,” according to the CRS report. Today, according to Defense Department officials, “doctrine and strategy are being updated to incorporate the role of contractors in contingency operations.”

The Pentagon’s Joint Contracting Command in Afghanistan has increased the size of its acquisition workforce and is adding staff to monitor performance. To enhance oversight, Congress has appropriated $8 million for an electronic system that will track all contract-related information for Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on contracting oversight, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., will hold a hearing on the increase in the number and value of Afghan contracts. She plans to focus on ensuring contracts are adequately managed and “whether contracting oversight lessons learned from Iraq are being applied in Afghanistan,” according to her staff.


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