State to turn to contractors when DoD goes

Thursday - 7/15/2010, 10:31am EDT

Grant Green, Commissioner, Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan

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By Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

As U.S. forces begin exiting Iraq, the State Department is struggling to find the best way to continue their diplomatic mission without military support.

According to the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), while DoD and State deserve credit for their efforts to plan an orderly transition of responsibilities, their efforts leave cause for concern.

"The Pentagon may be ready, our concern is the State Department's readiness to take this on because it does involve a huge number of contractors, certainly unprecedented in the department's history, and it's going to be a very complicated management and administrative mission," says commissioner Grant Green.

The bipartisan commission, established in 2008 to study wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently returned from a fact finding mission in Iraq. The group published a report of their findings on Monday.

CWC identified over 1,000 responsibilities that will need to be addressed when DoD leaves, many of which State is not prepared to assume.

"When you get into security issues, these are things that even if State had 100,000 more people, they're just not trained or capable of doing," says Green.

The commission says the transition is complicated by the fact that most of the functions rely on long standing DoD relationships with the Iraqi government that have few, if any, parallels at State.

In peaceful, stable countries this transition is usually eased by relying on the host nation to provide emergency and security needs. In a turbulent situation like Iraq, however, the exit of the military means State will have to rely on contractors for those functions.

There is debate about the use of contractors for what some see as inherently governmental functions, but State doesn't have many options.

"You use contractors, you leave some military to do selected things after the drawdown, or you down size the mission in some ways. Some combination of that may have to be the answer," Green says.

The commission also found management and oversight to be obstacles. According to Green, current weaknesses in contract oversight are expected to worsen as the number of contractors increases. For example, there are currently 2,700 security contractors in Iraq. CWC expects that to rise to 6,000 - 7,000.

The instability of the Iraqi government is another significant problem. Green says many of the decisions State and DoD are trying to make rely on a host government that is able to make those decisions and because that government has not been finalized, many decisions aren't being made.

Green says the goals of the special report were to draw attention to the dilemma and encourage DoD and State to work with the Iraqi government to find solutions. The report recommended:

  • DoD and State accelerate, intensify, and better integrate their joint planning for the transition in Iraq.
  • DoD and State immediately initiate and complete planning with the Iraqi government to address critical security functions now performed by DoD.
  • State use some existing DoD contracts rather than re-contract
  • Congress immediately provide additional resources to State to support its increased contracting costs and personnel needs.

Green says CWC is planning another fact finding trip in September or October, once the agencies have had time to implement the recommendations.

"The clock is moving. We've got a year and a half or so and the military will be out. Unless there is a change, State has got their hands full," says Green. "I don't want to imply that they're not doing things, but a year and a half is not a lot of time."

Meg Beasley is an intern with Federal News Radio