The United States' extensive outsourcing of military functions in war zones has been controversial since the beginning of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A report by the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting has heightened concerns with details of allegations of billions of dollars lost due to waste and corruption.
To lessen wartime strains on America’s all-volunteer military force, the Pentagon hires private businesses to provide a vast array of support services.
Reliance on contractors expanded drastically during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, feeding what is now a large for-profit military industry funded by U.S. taxpayers.
The commission's co-chairman, Michael Thibault says not all of the money has been well-spent.
“Total spending on contract and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan amounts to $206 billion. We estimate that $31-$60 billion of that total has been or is being lost to waste and fraud,” said Thibault.
At a news conference Wednesday, Thibault stressed that the commission's aim is not to attack the reputations of individual contractors, but rather to identify problems in the government’s contracting process. He says many problems have been identified.
“The cost of contract support has been unnecessarily high. [The U.S.] government has not effectively managed contracts to promote competition, reward good performance, and impose accountability for poor performance and misconduct by both government and contractor personnel,” Thibault said.
As an example of counter-productive efforts, the commission alleges that some U.S. funds for construction projects in Afghanistan wound up in the hands of insurgents battling American troops.
Contractors do everything from serving meals to troops to building power plants and guarding diplomats.
The commission urges an overhaul of government contracting procedures in war zones, and even phasing out the use of contractors for certain functions.
The other commission co-chairman is former Congressman Christopher Shays.
“The way forward demands reform. With tens of billions of dollars already wasted, with the prospect of more to follow, and with the risk of re-creating these problems the next time America faces a contingency, denial and delay are not good options,” said Shays.
Blackwater Chief Executive Erik Prince (2007 file photo)
Questions surrounding private military contractors are not new. In 2007, Congress held hearings on allegations that contractors targeted Iraqi civilians with excessive and reckless force. Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater, a well-known military contracting firm, denied any wrongdoing by his employees.
“I disagree with the assertion that they acted like cowboys,” Prince said.
Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia says the commission’s report is a call to action for Congress. “These recommendations will be listened to and, when appropriate, acted on by the United States Congress,” Webb said.
In May, the Congressional Research Service reported that the United States had 155,000 private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with 145,000 uniformed personnel.