The conflict in Iraq highlighted the difficulties the Defense Department faces
in managing contractors on the battlefield, officials said. Of particular concern
is the inability to track and oversee growing numbers of contractors. Military
commanders, additionally, worry that they are not always aware of what contractors
were hired to do and how they should be managed.
The Army, for example, has realized that there are “hundreds of sub-issues
under the issue contractors on the battlefield,” said Army Col. James
Chambers, a career logistician, now the support commander for the 3rd Corps,
at Fort Hood, Texas.
In Operation Iraqi Freedom, Army officials relied on contractors for many logistics
support functions. It became confusing to commanders to determine exactly what
the contractors were supposed to do, Chambers said. “The demands that
we asked of our contractors were not always written in the contracts that they
To get the situation under control, the Army recently awarded a $10 million
contract, under which “we actually pay a contractor to come to account
for contractors,” said Chambers in remarks to the National Defense Industrial
Association’ armaments conference, in Parsippany, N.J.
Nobody in the service knew how many contractors were employed for Operation
Iraqi Freedom, Chambers said. “There was no single source collecting,
either in the theater or outside the theater, [information about] how many contractors
we have,” he noted.
Even though he refused to give any details on how many contractors are in the
battlefield, Chambers said, “it was a surprising number.”
“You will see numbers that for every 10 soldiers there is one contractor,”
he added. “That number is probably a little bit high, but those numbers
Generally, it is only when contractors come under enemy fire that the news
media question the Defense Department’s policies for supervising and protecting
contractors, Chambers noted.
Those are legitimate concerns, he said. Contractors should have protective
gear such as body armor and chemical-biological suits. “They should have
all the force protection and security that we afford soldiers in an area of
combat, Chambers said.”
Nevertheless, he said, the Army is not certain how to implement and find resources
to ensure contractors have adequate protection. It is something the service
will have to “figure out over the next couple of years,” Chambers
Chambers’ remarks coincided with a General Accounting Office report,
published on June 24, entitled “Military Operations: Contractors Provide
Vital Services to Deployed Forces, But Are Not Adequately Addressed in DOD Plans.”
The use of contractors to support deployed forces around the world has increased
significantly since the 1991 Gulf War, according to the report. Reductions in
the size of the military, the added numbers of operations and missions, and
sophisticated weapons systems have spurred the increase.
The types of services contractors provide to deployed forces include communication,
interpretation, base operations services, weapons systems maintenance, gate
and perimeter security, intelligence analysis, and oversight over other contractors,
The Defense Department adheres to the philosophy that soldiers should be ready
to deploy for any contingencies. But some weapon systems require specialized
contractor support, because military personnel may have not received sufficient
training to operate or maintain them independently.
GAO criticized the Pentagon for failing to include contractor support in its
operational and strategic plans. “As early as 1988, DOD was aware of the
need to identify contractors providing essential services, but has done little
to do so in the ensuing 15 years,” said the report.
The Defense Department, in 1991, instructed all agencies to identify essential
services provided by contractors and develop plans to ensure the continuation
of those services should contractors become unavailable.
“However, we found that DOD components have not conducted the directed
reviews to identify those contracts providing essential services,” said
While individual contract oversight was in place in most locations the GAO
team visited by April (the report does not include many of the contractual challenges
that arose in OIF), the watchdog agency identified a number of broader issues
associated with managing contractor support in key areas.
“Commanders at deployed locations have limited visibility and understanding
of all contractor activity supporting their operations and frequently have no
easy way to get answers to questions about contractor support,” the report
said. The management of contractors is inconsistent. In addition, there is no
standard contract language for deployment of contractors.
According to the GAO, the Army has developed substantial guidance and policies
to deal with contractor support to deployed forces, while the other services
make less use of contractors.
The Defense Department issued Instruction 3020.37, which requires the services
to determine which contracts provide essential services. Military units either
have to develop plans for continued provision of those services during crises
or assume the risk of not having the essential service, the report said.
“Neither DOD nor the services have taken steps to ensure compliance with
this instruction. ... Without a clear understanding of the potential consequences
of not having the essential service available, the risks associated with the
The services have little understanding of the government’s responsibility
to contractors during hostilities. This can cause confusion and makes managing
contractors more difficult, because commanders often have contractors from several
services at their location with different requirements, understanding and ob-
ligations, said the report. Many commanders, senior military personnel and
contracting officer representatives are not aware of their roles and responsibilities
in dealing with contractors.
“Most commanders at the locations we visited had only limited visibility
and limited understanding of the extent and types of services being provided
by contractors,” the report said. “The lack of visibility over the
types and numbers of contractors limits the contract oversight that can be provided
and hampers the commander’s ability to maintain accountability of contractors.”
The Army’s G-4 recently published a draft of a contractor manual to provide
guidance for future deployments, according to an Army Material Command spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the office of the defense secretary has been floating the idea of
creating a “first corps,” made up of active-duty forces. This first
corps would do the job that contractors do today on the battlefield, without
any more outside help, said Chambers.
This might not be feasible, he said. “We are always finding out that
it is an extreme resourcing decision to have a completely active, non-contractor
fighting corps ready to deploy at a moment’s notice,” he said. “It
is just not an achievable goal.”
The reserves and the National Guard are trained and equipped to fulfill support
roles, said Chambers. But many already have been deployed in fighting roles
both in OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Also, Chambers said, having only active-duty troops as support personnel would
be impossible because the majority of weapons systems depend on contractor support
to keep them in operation.
Deployment methods also need to be revisited, said Chambers. The incremental
approval of deployment orders and port accessibility issues resulted in changes
of the Time-Phased Force and Deployment Data flow. Chambers described TPFDD
as a “very deliberate, piecemeal method of deploying forces.”
In trying to deploy the “force packages, we were command-centric and
not necessarily theater-centric,” said Chambers. “So what happened
[was that] a lot of the kinds of units and capabilities that you needed to run
a theater fell out. We reached back, and we pulled units from the 90-day mark
on the TPFDD. We had reserve components who were notified 10 days before deployment.”
Chambers called the TPFDD process “antiquated.” However “we
do not have anything to replace it with,” he acknowledged. “I do
not think anybody would sign up on this to do a next deployment.”
In preparation for OIF, the Army faced challenges in processing soldiers and
contractors for deployment. Unit integrity, in terms of combat loading, could
not be maintained. Matching arriving equipment with mobilizing or arriving soldiers
was difficult, Chambers said.
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