Wartime contracting getting new scrutiny on the ground

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Here comes the cavalry, of sorts. Fifteen members and staff from the congressionally-created Commission on Wartime Contracting have left state-side comforts behind to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ll be checking first-hand how contractors and the government personnel that manage them are performing in the midst of war, according to a Commission press release this morning.

“There’s no substitute for first-hand investigation,” said Commission co-chair Michael Thibault. “There are about 200,000 contract employees working in Iraq and Afghanistan, outnumbering U.S. troops in the area. The unprecedented reliance on contractors in support of our foreign policy and military objectives has been accompanied by many problems.”

Among the tasks at hand, the three Commission teams will visit military bases and reconstruction sites, such as schools, water treatment plants, and hospitals. The Commission also plans on reviewing the use of security contractors, such as Blackwater (now known as Xe) and Triple Canopy.

Grant Green, another Commission co-chair, pointed to “billions of taxpayer dollars” from contracts lost to waste, fraud, and abuse. The reasons include poor contract drafting and weak oversight; abusive or incompetent companies; and instances of individual dishonesty in government, the military, and business, he said.

The Commission plans a hearing on logistics contracts in April and will issue an interim report this spring and a final report in 2010. They are empowered to recommend statutory and regulatory changes based on their findings.

"Part of our job," Thibault said, "is determine why some earlier contracting reforms haven't worked, and to look for ways to remove obstacles or try different approaches to change. Our troops, our policy objectives, and our taxpayers deserve better results from contract work than they've been getting."

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