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Congress knowingly throws billions at graft, incompetence and a growing mercenary army

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When the president and his complicit Congress say America must support the troops, what they really mean is we must give the appearance of supporting the troops, and in fact write a blank check for military contractors and a growing private military that, like the president, suffers no accountability.

 In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 legislators included a provision directing the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on audit findings regarding contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They never promised to act on it.

 The GAO issued its findings to Congress in September 2006. The GAO  tracked 349 audit reports prepared by the Defense Contract Audit Agency (which is overseen by the DoD's comptroller). The audits were done on proposals from 99 companies between February 2003 and February 2006. The GAO identified $3.5 billion in “questioned and unsupported costs” on Iraq contracts.  The report states: “In some cases, DCAA reviewed multiple contractor proposals for the same work. DOD officials told us that contractors submitted multiple proposals because requirements changed or the proposal was considered inadequate for negotiations. For example, over a 6-month period, DCAA issued four audit reports on three different proposals for a task order related to an oil mission.”  

Aside from this being an internal audit, this does not sound encouraging. We're not talking about spare change, but billions of dollars. The auditors of the contracts aren't the only ones with a mess on their hands. Just what is going on with military outsourcing? 

The day after author Jeremy Scahill (“Blackwater: Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army) testified at Rep. John Murtha’s May 10 House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on military contractors, he was back on the road for a multi-city tour talking about the growing mercenary army decribed in his book. Scahill and his cohort Robert Greenwald (“Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers”), a documentary filmmaker who also testified before Murtha’s committee, and select others are pressing to get Congress to act.. (One of the very few changes to occur since Congress came under Democratic majority is that Representatives Murtha, Conyers and Waxman, all new committee chairs, are giving Bush and Cheney’s dirty laundry a long overdue public airing.)

Scahill pointed out that the ratio of military contractors to U.S. soldiers in Iraq is nearing 1:1. This is not privileged information and as the above GAO report, and those following, attest, this is well-known in Congress.  

Bear this in mind when Congress sends the next blank check to Bush:

The number of private military contractors are estimated at 126,000, but no one knows the exact number. So far the U.S. Army has compiled a database of 50,000. (KBR/Halliburton alone has 50,000 employees in Iraq.) According to the new commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), Adm. William Fallon, “I have no idea how many are actually there.” UPI: “US: No Idea How Many Contractors in Iraq,” April 24, 2007


Under Order 17, issued in 2004 by then Ambassador Paul Bremer and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, contractors are immune from prosecution in Iraq. While 64 U.S. soldiers have been court-martialed on murder-related charges, no individual armed contractor has been prosecuted for a crime against an Iraqi. 

The claim that outsourcing saves taxpayer money because private firms can do the job more efficiently and at lower cost is insupportable and it’s very unlikely that military contractors are saving U.S. taxpayers money. With contractors subcontracting to sub-subcontractors and they in turn subcontracting, we’re paying for several layers of administrators and middlemen. Mercenaries tend to be paid two to three times than what an average special forces soldier is paid. It can be $100,000 a year in some cases, or $1000 a day. An official with the Army Material Command estimated that $43 million is lost every year on free meals provided to contract employees who also receive per diem, according to another recent GAO report.. 

Deaths of private army contractors are not included among the official war dead. The exact number of contractors killed in Iraq is unknown. Not all companies report casualty numbers and they are generally reluctant to do so. However, Knight Ridder, in 2005, obtained insurance claim statistics from the Department of Labor and reported 428 civilian contractor deaths and 3,963 other casualties. Following up recently, the New York Times petitioned the Labor Department for the latest figures and found that “at least 146 contract workers were killed in Iraq in the first three months of the year.”          


A PBS’ Frontline program profiled the “Private warriors” in 2005. In Iraq alone there are over 150 private military companies or private security contractors. Here are some of the biggest ones:

Aegis, a British security company, was awarded an Army contract valued at      approximately $292 million to coordinate and track all security teams operating in Iraq, as well as to protect the Green Zone. It’s 2004 contract was extended.  Blackwater, USA won a $21 million contract to protect Ambassador Bremer and U.S. State Department personnel in Iraq. Blackwater has more than $750 million  in diplomatic security contracts, providing security to members of Congress visiting the Green Zone, the U.S. ambassador and other officials. Erinys, a British company, has a $50 million contract to protect the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq. Some of its guards earn $1,000 a day. KBR, Halliburton's engineering and construction subsidiary, obtained contracts to provide nearly $12 billion worth of services in Iraq, under two military contracts: the 10-year Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract (which KBR won in December 2001) valued at an estimated $8.5 billion so far, and the $2.5 billion Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) contract.


There is no organization within the Department of Defense (DOD) responsible for managing, providing oversight, or aggregating the numbers and types of contractors in Iraq. When Multi-National Force-Iraq began to plan the development of a consolidated base, officials could not determine how many contractors were deployed in Iraq.. GAO Report. December 2006


Background screening of military contractors is inadequate, and it, too, is in private hands. Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan provide a wide range of services, from maintaining advanced weapon systems to preparing meals for the troops. In many cases, contractor employees need not be U.S. citizens. Many of the mercenaries in Iraq are from other countries including India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Chile, Nepal, Colombia, El Salvador, and several African nations. The companies say that screening third country prospects is difficult because some companies lack criminal records, the records may be unreliable or that privacy laws limit access to data. GAO Report. September 2006.


None of this is new. For years the GAO has churned out numerous “red flag” reports to a deaf, blind and mute Congress about the waste, fraud and lack of oversight concerning military contracts -- at the request of both Republicans and Democrats. One of the latest, “Improved Management and Oversight Needed to Better Control DOD’s Acquisition of Services” delivered to Murtha’s Defense Appropriation Subcommittee on May 10, tells the story in typical no-frills GAO fashion:

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Kathlyn Stone is a Minnesota-based writer covering science and medicine, health care and related policies.ï She publishes www.fleshandstone.net, a health and science news site.
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