Wartime contracting commission details years of waste

The U.S. government has wasted tens of billions of dollars on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan and must make sweeping changes to avoid similar mistakes in the future, according to a report published on Thursday by the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting.

The report included 32 legislative, regulatory and policy proposals to reduce waste, fraud and abuse through enhanced oversight and improved deployment of government resources.

Among the most significant recommendations was limiting the government's reliance on armed private security contractors. Touching on arguably the most controversial aspect of wartime contracting, the panel suggested the government embed federal employees with armed private security contractors to ensure command and control of all hostile situations. The commission's final report, due this summer, will more broadly address concerns that the government has relied excessively on private security contractors.

The panel also advised creating a permanent inspector general office for contingency operations. And it called for establishing a new "dual-hatted" position at the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Council to provide oversight and strategic direction for overseas contingency activities.

"For many years the government has abdicated its contracting responsibilities -- too often using contractors as the default mechanism, driven by considerations other than whether they provide the best solution, and without consideration for the resources needed to manage them," the commission concluded. "That is how contractors have come to account for fully half the United States presence in contingency operations."

The 72-page report suggested that a host of circumstances have led to an overreliance on the use of contractors in battle zones. They include a depleted acquisition workforce, a downsized military, the limited deployability of federal civilian personnel and a lackadaisical attitude by senior officials who put little emphasis on procurement costs.

"War by its nature entails waste," the report stated. "But the scale of the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan also reflects the toxic interplay of huge sums of money pumped into relatively small economies and an unprecedented reliance on contractors."

Although there is no central database that tracks wartime contracting exclusively, the commission estimated that since 2001, at least $177 billion has been obligated in contracts to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Defense Department has spent the overwhelming majority of those funds -- $154 billion.

The report concluded, however, that tens of billions of dollars have ultimately been wasted either through ill-conceived projects, a lack of competition, poor planning, inadequate contract oversight, or outright corruption.

"When it comes to oversight of contingency contracting, we've been driving beyond the reach of our headlights," said Commission Co-Chairman Michael Thibault, former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency. "Reforms are badly needed."

During fiscal 2010, about 200,000 contract employees -- primarily non-Americans -- supported U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a figure roughly equal to the number of military personnel in the two war zones.

Despite the scope of the effort, senior officials at military and civilian agencies have consistently failed to consider cost a significant factor in their pre-award planning, or post-award performance-management decisions, the report said.

"For many senior officials, contractors appear to be a 'free' source of labor with no direct impact on their budgets," the commission found. "Funded out of what they perceive to be unconstrained overseas contingency operation budgets, many senior officials pay scant attention to articulating specific support requirements, negotiating contract terms and managing contractor performance."

To reverse the trend of reckless spending, the commission suggested Defense, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development undertake a comprehensive contingency personnel assessment to determine the gaps in resources and capabilities, including the ability to manage contractors. Congress also should provide funding for agencies to develop a deployable cadre of acquisition support staff for contingency activities, the report said.

The commission argued that the reforms will pay for themselves through reduced waste and increased efficiencies in contingency operations.

Other commission recommendations included:

  • Measuring senior military and civilian officials' efforts to manage contractors and control costs;
  • Establishing offices of contingency contracting at Defense, State and USAID;
  • Developing interagency certification requirements and a training curriculum for contingency acquisition personnel;
  • Breaking out and competing major subcontract requirements for large multifunction support contracts;
  • Limiting contingency task-order performance periods;
  • Requiring agencies to certify their use of a new past performance database;
  • Issuing more suspensions and debarments;
  • Mandating that consent to U.S. civil jurisdiction be a condition of contract awards and clarifying that the government maintains criminal jurisdiction over civilian-agency contractors operating overseas.
The eight-member panel, formed in 2008 to investigate wartime contract spending, has hosted 19 hearings, held 900 meetings or briefings, and taken several trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. It will hold its next hearing on Feb. 28 to examine the effectiveness of the government's tools, including suspension and debarment, to hold contractors accountable for problems with their work.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.