Military seeks head count of contractors in Iraq

The Army Central Command and Multi-National Force-Iraq are undertaking a new effort to develop a full accounting of government contractors living or working in Iraq, seeking to fill an information gap that remains despite previous efforts.

A memorandum issued Tuesday by Robert Burton, associate administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, asked military services and federal agencies to assist Central Command and MNF-I by providing information by June 1.

The request seeks to establish data for contractors including the company and agreement worked on; the camp or base at which they are located; the services such as mail, emergency medical care or meals they obtain from the military; their specialty area; whether they carry a weapon; and government contracting personnel associated with them.

Previous efforts to gauge the size of federal contractor workforces have met with little success. An initiative launched in 2000 to count Army contractors ran afoul of the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act, becoming bogged down in assessments of the associated burden and benefits.

Lee Thompson, assistant deputy assistant secretary of the Army for policy and procurement in Iraq, said there is no current, accurate estimate of the number of contractors in Iraq. "The theater itself wants to know how many people are in-country," he said, adding that the new data would help in establishing how many people had access to individual military facilities, and on what authority they were there.

Paul Light, a professor at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, has tried to estimate the size of the contractor workforce for the entire federal government. He said industry has disparaged his figures, which are very rough estimates based on the total dollars that go into contracting divided by average wages, with various adjustments, but has declined to provide more accurate numbers.

"I think industry doesn't want to do a hard count because they don't want people to know how many people get their paychecks, indirectly, from Uncle Sam," Light said. By his count -- which he acknowledged overestimates the number of contractors -- that would be more than six million federal contractors and grantees, roughly triple the size of the full-time federal workforce.

He estimated that as many as two million might work for the Defense Department serving at locations around the world, but said segregating those numbers by location, using his framework, was difficult.

Light said an accurate contractor head count could also be useful in estimating the cost-effectiveness of government spending, a goal that federal management might support but the contracting industry would resist.

But Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va.-based industry group, said agencies already should have the requested information and be able to pool that as needed. Additional reporting requirements place an undue burden on contractors, he said.

Chvotkin said an Army system in place since late 2005 has required contractors to report certain data on a secure Web site, and reimburses them for the time taken. But agencies not using the system may not have information easily available, he said.

"For some companies, [complying with this] is going to be enormously difficult; for some, it will be easy," Chvotkin said, noting that in either case, it would represent only a snapshot in time of the Iraq-based contractor workforce.

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