Since 9/11, private security companies have been guarding some of
America's most sensitive military installations, such as Fort Bragg
in North Carolina, the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and
the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey.
Now, concerns about accountability and the caliber of the private
guards are leading some critics, both inside and outside government,
to ask whether this is a job too vital for the military to outsource
Concern has escalated since the Government Accountability Office,
the investigative arm of Congress, reported this month that some
private contractors had hired felons, had missing and incomplete
records, and in one case, had falsified records on weapons and
training. At two military bases, the GAO report found, a total of 89
private guards with criminal records were working.
The GAO's conclusion: The Army's screening procedures for the
private guards are "inadequate and put the Army at risk," despite
previous agency warnings about such problems during the past three
The Army, for its part, has pledged to improve management and
oversight of private guards.
Those who see merit in contracting out military-base security say
the problems are solvable and that, overall, private security guards
are as professional and competent as the Army's own personnel.
Private guards, they note, are supervised by the Army and trained
according to Department of Defense specifications. With Army and
National Guard personnel stretched thin by deployments to Iraq and
Afghanistan, the private companies provide an invaluable service,
say supporters of the current system.
Critics, though, doubt the Army's beefed-up oversight will be
sufficient, because some of the contract guards work for American
subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies. In this age of terrorism
and after the Dubai ports flap, they say, American military
personnel should provide security at US military bases.
Some homeland security experts see a more fundamental problem.
The need to outsource and the subsequent management problems, they
say, are indications of the overall stresses the nation's military,
security, and law-enforcement agencies face daily as they adapt to
the increased demands of the post-9/11 world.
"Security resources are thin in the country right now. They're in
demand, and those with advanced skill sets are drawn to the money,
and they're going overseas where they can make 100 to 140 percent
more," says Edward Clark, founder of Executive Interface, a homeland
security risk-management company in Garden City, Mo. "The system is
Beginning in the 1970s, the US government began to outsource some
of its functions - from designing computer systems to selling food
in federal buildings - to private contractors. …