Defense pushes to allow contractors to guard military bases

The Defense Department should be allowed to use contractors to guard military installations, federal procurement chief Angela Styles and four Defense officials told a House panel on Wednesday.

Styles said the Bush administration supports repealing a law that prohibits the military from hiring contractors as security guards. The issue of who guards military bases is a management decision and should not be dictated by statute, she told lawmakers on the Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

"You can have a security guard that is carrying a weapon, using force, and protecting the lives of people who you may decide is inherently governmental," said Styles. "You have other security guards that may not be inherently governmental, and that [decision] should be left to the department or agency, and should not be made by statute."

The 1998 Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act requires federal employees to perform all jobs deemed "inherently governmental."

Defense officials at the hearing echoed Styles' remarks. "When I first was honored to take this job, the first question I asked was why aren't we using private contractors [as security guards]?," said Mario Fiori, the Army's assistant secretary of installations and environment. Fiori, who oversaw contractor security guards in a previous job with the Energy Department, said contractors could allow managers to provide better security with fewer employees.

"Right now I'm using 130 to 150 National Guard soldiers in several of my facilities to protect these places," he said. "I think I'd be a heckuva a lot better off if I could use good civilian workers to do it."

The Readiness Subcommittee has considered repeal of the statute (Section 2465 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code) before, but Congress has never approved it. The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, vowed to fight any attempt to scrap the law.

"We will not allow the safety and security of personnel and installations to be jeopardized by rent-a-cops," said an AFGE spokesman. "Pentagon officials have obviously learned nothing from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, also expressed reservations about overturning the law, noting that Congress recently voted to federalize airport security. Security at military bases should be no less of a priority than airports, he said.

"I think that when you federalize security guards to take care of airports, it is a serious business," he said. "It's also a serious business to be able to protect those workers that work in military facilities, and families who might be living inside these facilities."

But Styles and the Defense officials said that contractors could handle security duties if they were well paid and highly trained. This is possible if the government specifies exactly what it requires in the contract, she said.

"It's a matter of … in the opening solicitation of your contract saying we must have 'X' kind of person who is paid 'X' amount of money with 'X' skills," said Styles. "That way you ensure that your contract has the right type of person in place to be a security guard."

Michael Wynne, undersecretary of acquisition, technology and logistics at the Defense Department, H.T. Johnson, assistant secretary, installations and environment at the Navy, and Michael Dominguez, assistant secretary of manpower and reserve Affairs, U.S. Air Force, joined Styles and Fiori in calling for a repeal of the law.