Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and Analysis *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and Analysis *

Article excerpt


The Department of Defense (DOD) has often relied upon contractors to support military operations. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army relied on contractors to provide such goods and services as transportation and engineering services, clothing, and weapons [1]

Since then, advances in warfare and technology have expanded the functions and responsibilities of contractors in military operations [2]. After the Cold War, reliance on contractors further increased when DOD cut logistic and support personnel [3]. As a result of these cuts, DOD lost in-house capability and was forced to rely even further on contractor support [4]. Many analysts now believe that DOD is unable to successfully execute large missions without contractor support. These analysts point to recent contingency operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans-the three largest operations of the past 15 years-where contractors have comprised approximately 50% of DOD's combined contractor and uniformed personnel workforce (see Figure 1) [5]

Contractors can provide significant operational benefits to DOD. Using contractors to perform non-combat activities augments the total force and can also free up uniformed personnel to perform combat missions. Since contractors can be hired faster than DOD can develop an internal capability, contractors can be quickly deployed to provide critical support capabilities when necessary. Contractors also provide expertise in specialized fields that DOD may not possess, such as linguistics. Using contractors can also save DOD money.

Contractors can be hired when a particular need arises and be let go when their services are no longer needed. Hiring contractors only as needed can be cheaper in the long run than maintaining a permanent in-house capability.

DOD has spent billions of dollars on contractors supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, from 2003-2007, DOD obligated almost $76 billion for contracts in the Iraqi theater [6]. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 and the first half of FY2008, DOD obligated approximately $30 billion on contractors for the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan (over $5 billion for Afghanistan and approximately $25 billion for Iraq) [7].


Lack of sufficient contract management can prevent troops from receiving needed support and lead to wasteful spending [8] In addition, some analysts believe that lax contractor oversight may lead to contractor abuses which can undermine U.S. counter-insurgency efforts [9]

Questions have been raised about DOD's ability to effectively manage contractors during contingency operations [10]. For example, some analysts assert that DOD has not adequately planned for the use of contractors, lacks contingency contracting experience, and does not sufficiently coordinate contracts across military services [11]. In 2007, the Commission on Army Acquisition and Program Management in Expeditionary Operations (the Gansler Report) found that Contracting Officer Representatives, who are responsible for managing contracts, usually have no prior experience with contractors and receive negligible training on how to manage contractors [12]. Some analysts argue that as a result, DOD is not getting the most out of the services provided by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Questions have also been raised about DOD spending on contractors. The Commission on Wartime Contracting highlighted over-spending on contracts as a key concern [13]. It reported that managerial shortages and limited oversight of contractors led to potentially unnecessary construction, such as a new $30 million dining facility to be completed a year before U.S. troops were required to leave Iraq, even though a then-recently upgraded dining facility was located nearby [14]

Many analysts argue that only a culture shift in the military will improve contracting outcomes. …

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