June 18, 2010

Are Private Security Contractors Performing Inherently Governmental Functions?

CNAS President Dr. John Nagl testified before the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan on the proper role and oversight of security contractors supporting U.S. operations in Southwest Asia.

Testimony Excerpt:

When our nation goes to war, contractors go with it. In both Iraq and Afghanistan today, there are more private contractors than U.S. troops on the ground.2 This state of affairs is likely to endure. Now, and for the foreseeable future, the United States will be unable to engage in conflicts or reconstruction and stabilization operations of any significant size without private contractors. Changes in business practices, the provision of government services and the character of modern conflict, together with limits on the size of the American military, diplomatic and development corps, are driving the size and scope of expeditionary contracting to unprecedented proportions. Absent a significant reduction in America’s international commitments and perceived global interests, the employment of private contractors in future American conflicts is here to stay.

The system within which this contracting takes place, however, has not caught up with the new reality. Billions of taxpayer dollars committed to contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been implemented with little oversight. Contracting companies themselves crave clearer guidelines. The roles of contractors remain incompletely integrated into the conduct of American operations. And the legal framework within which contractors work remains cloudy.

To adapt, the U.S. government must embark on a path of ambitious reform that will require new laws and regulations; an expansion of the government’s contracting workforce; a coordination mechanism within the executive branch; greater scrutiny, more transparency and clearer standards; a strategic view of the roles of contractors in American operations; and a change in culture within the government.

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