By Peter Cohn
April 19, 2007House and Senate negotiators on the $124 billion war supplemental have agreed to drop House-passed cuts in military operations and maintenance funds intended to curtail the proliferation of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a compromise, 15 percent of total day-to-day operational funding in the bill will be fenced off until the Defense secretary submits a report on the use of contracted services in support of military and reconstruction activities. That is up from 10 percent in the initial version.
House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., said he agreed to soften the provision because his panel has not been able to hold sufficient hearings on the issue, but it could re-emerge later.
"We're trying to bring accountability to an unaccountable war. We got 126,000 contractors over there, some of them making more than the secretary of Defense. How in the hell do you justify that?" Murtha asked.
As originally passed by the House, Murtha's provision would have cut $815 million from overall funding for day-to-day military operations, or 5 percent, "to reflect savings attributable to efficiencies and management improvements in the funding of contracts in the military departments." That language has been dropped.
The report, to be drafted in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget director and secretary of State, is to provide detailed information on the number of contracts, contractors and contractor personnel operating in fiscal 2006, as well as estimates for the current fiscal year and information specifying which federal agencies are responsible for executing the contracts.
"When I was in Iraq with [Speaker Nancy Pelosi], the contractors were falling all over themselves. I asked the GAO and the inspector general: How many contractors do you have? I asked the undersecretary of Defense. He says: 'I'll let you know tomorrow.' We've never gotten an answer back," Murtha said last month. "We want answers about whether these contractors --how much it's costing us, how many we have, and how the contracts are being given to these various organizations."
By Peter Cohn
April 19, 2007