Pentagon lays out detailed regulations for security contractors

The Defense Department released an interim final rule Friday laying out policy regarding the use of private security contractors in war zones.

The interim rule, which is effective immediately, modifies the Code of Federal Regulations to include policies and procedures for selecting, training, equipping and overseeing private security contractors.

The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, which filed the rule, wrote that it is "of critical importance" to address insufficient policy and guidance regulating the actions of security contractors working for Defense and other agencies in war zones.

"It will procedurally close existing gaps in the oversight of private security contractors, ensure compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to inherently governmental functions, and ensure proper performance by armed contractors," the rule stated.

The rule requires combatant commanders to develop detailed guidance for security contractors operating in their geographic area of responsibility. The guidance must address a range of specific issues, from ensuring private security contractors have the proper training and certification to carry weapons to coordinating communication between PSCs and military forces.

The rule, which is open for comment until Aug. 13, states that private security contractors must document and report incidents involving weapons discharges, attacks, deaths or injuries of PSCs or as a result of action by PSCs, or destruction of property. The contractors must also report any active, nonlethal countermeasures taken in response to a perceived threat if that incident "could significantly affect U.S. objectives with regard to the military mission or international relations."

In filing the rule, Defense officials said the timing was critical, as the increase of troops in Afghanistan will result in a corresponding rise in the number of private security contractors there.

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, which represents private security firms, said the rule codifies practices Defense has been implementing for awhile. It makes sense to formalize lessons learned in Iraq so they can apply in Afghanistan, he said. Until now those lessons have been addressed piecemeal through amendments to contracts with security firms.

"A lot of the contractual issues have been largely sorted out in Iraq, but we're seeing them pop up again in Afghanistan," Brooks said. "They're going to have to be sorted out in Afghanistan, which can be a little bit of a painful process, so this is good."

Erik Quist, general counsel for EOD Technology Inc., a Tennessee-based firm providing security and ordnance disposal services, agreed that most of the rule's requirements mirror what Defense has been writing into security service contracts.

"It's not new, it's not burdensome and the fact that there is now, at this level of government, an official articulation and direction of the process, that's very important," Quist said. "If we know what the process should be we don't have to fret that if something's absent from our contract, we won't know what to do. Institutionalizing these requirements under the pending new rule is an important part of the overall effort to protect the taxpayer's best interests while at the same time establish a process to utilize the very valuable role private security companies can play in supporting the government."

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