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Contracting Out Military Logistics

| 13 Comments

Well, I started out with an article on the contracting out of military logistics and it morphed into a fisking part-way through, so bear with me.

I saw this NY TIMES Magazine article titled "Nation Builders for Hire" by Dan Baum. It talked a bit about Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), subsidiary of the oil-services giant Halliburton, and its role in the contracting out of military logistics. It has a few nuggets of good information about contracting out, but it also has a great deal of Rainesian style leftist spin. The following paragraphs sum it up from the reporter's point of view....

Outsourcing military missions also lets the Pentagon do things Congress might not approve. Congress, for example, has said the military can have only 400 U.S. soldiers in Colombia, an oil-rich country destabilized by guerrillas and the cocaine trade. But for years, civilian pilots employed by DynCorp, a KBR competitor, have been flying what amount to combat missions in Colombia under contract to the State Department, spraying coca crops with defoliant and occasionally getting shot at. Representative Janice Schakowsky, Democrat of Chicago, has been trying to put a stop to this kind of end run around Congressional oversight, but in the bellicose post-9/11 atmosphere on Capitol Hill, she can't get traction. Congress would never authorize the U.S. military to perform such a politically explosive mission as the Colombian spraying, Schakowsky argues, and if an American soldier was killed in Colombia it would be Page 1 news.

''Is the U.S. military privatizing its missions to avoid public controversy or embarrassment -- to hide body bags from the media and shield the military from public opinion?'' she asks. Iraq, Schakowsky says, is no different. ''We talk a lot in Congress about how many U.S. troops are there and for how long, but not at all about the contractors,'' she said. ''They don't have to follow the same chain of command, the military code of conduct may or may not apply, the accountability is absent and the transparency is absent -- but the money keeps flowing.''

and
"The revolving door that spins at the top of the military-industrial ziggurat spins at the bottom too. On my way out of Arifjan, I looked more closely at the heavily armed soldiers guarding the gate and found they weren't soldiers at all, but rather civilian employees of something called Combat Support Associates, a joint venture of three obscure American companies that provide the Army with security, logistics, ''live-fire training'' and maintenance. In southern Iraq I ran into four big men in full combat gear and Robocop sunglasses whom I also took to be soldiers until I noticed the tape over the left shirt breasts; instead of US ARMY, it said EODT. That stands for ''Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology,'' not an Army unit but a company based in Knoxville, Tenn. The Web site says EOD Technology ''applies leading-edge geophysical technologies to provide documented efficient solutions to environmental challenges,'' and what that translates to is: these guys dig up minefields for a living. Their challenge the day I saw them was an unexploded American artillery round that had crashed through an oil pipeline and was buried who-knew-where underneath. All four used to be soldiers; now they do the same work at private-sector wages."
What crap. You can tell when the NY TIMES is spinning when it damns a Clinton Administration policy without mentioning the word "Clinton" once in the entire article.

There are two things Congressmen want most in the world. The first is the opportunity to grandstand for their constituents. The second is to obtain campaign contributions. The use of military contractors rather than uniformed military robs Democratic Congressmen (and newspapers) of a certain political stripe, like Representative Janice Schakowsky, of the ability to do either. This is because the marks, I mean constituents, don't have their hot buttons pushed when Dynacorp loses a plane full of employees rather than uniformed American servicemen.

This is exactly why the Clinton Administration started the contracting out policy in Bosnia see here and here as well for peacekeeping operations in East Timor here, here, here and here. And, oh by the way, this is why big defense service companies like Haliburton started to give money to the DNC in 1996.

Information on contracting out military logistics is readily available at the US Army's Army Logistician professional journal and its on-line back issues here. I suppose NY TIMES Magazine reporters don't have to know how to use the Google search engine.

Anyway, from the military's point of view, the issues with contracting out are a lot different. The biggest issue is that of trading off maintenance done within a unit versus that done by contractors. In the field survey visits I have participated in for the FMTV truck program, the Army cannot maintain enough personnel stability, even with the warrant officer system, to keep highly trained technical specialists. This means the Army has given up three level maintenance with primarily its own mechanics for two level maintenance where Army mechanics go for quick and dirty repairs while contractors handle manhour intensive periodic maintenance and depot level repairs/overhauls.

You also see the Army worrying how to make sure Contractors on the Battlefield are taken care of and integrated into planning. This doesn't seem to be the problem that it first appears because many of the contractor field service representatives are ex-military and are in many cases reliving their salad years of being in the service without the pains of being in the chain of command. In short, they don't run because they bonded with the soldiers they work with. "We won't run out on our kids" sums it up nicely.

There are also other issues that are not openly discussed due to DoD budget war implications. I regularly E-mail a group of people that includes science fiction author, former paratrooper and sometimes New York Post columnist John Ringo. He sent me the following on the issue of military contracting out:

"Buddy of mine is a "prime power operative" in the Army. He's also a civilian high power electrician. I asked him one time about the Engineers getting in there and "doing the job right" (in reference to some charity construction in Latin America). And this was the...lecture he presented me with.

"There's two speeds for the engineers in the Army: war speed and peace speed. In war speed, they work 24 hours per day if necessary to get the mission done. In peacetime, though, it goes like this.

First call formation 0600-0615. The mission is briefed for the day. Fall out for individual PT.

Recall formation 0900-0915.
Safety Briefing: 0915-0945
Mission briefing: 0945-1015
Equipment draw: 1015-1045
Begin mission: 1045 (five minute break at the top of every hour)
Lunch: 1200-1330
Lunch recall formation: 1330-1345
Recall formation: 1700-1715
Dismissed: 1715

Start over again the next day.
Length of mission: six months.

Civilian contractors:

On jobsite (with all necessary equipment, cup/thermos of coffee in hand): 0700
Begin work: 0705
Lunch break: 1200-1230
Quit work when forced to (over eight hours is time and a
half, over twelve double time and that is on top of over 40
being time and half so doing over twelve after over forty is...)

Repeat until job is completed.
Length of project: six weeks.
Just hire Haliburton or Knudsen. It's the most efficient method."

Putting on my DoD quality bureaucrat green eye shades, I will quibble with the world "efficient." I think it will cost more using contractors than using troops in the long run because contractors can lobby Congress and the Brass to pay them more while the Army maintainers & logisticians can't. There is no denying that current contracting out methods are *EFFECTIVE* and substituting money and physical capital for American troops is an old and honored American military tradition.

The big issue with contracting out in the war on terrorism is how to use it in uncertain security situations where the contractors hire a bunch of unscreened locals. That is one we are about to find out the hard way in Iraq and elsewhere. It would be a nice thing if the "Paper of Record" would bother itself with such real world, life and death, details rather than V.P. Cheney/Haliburton snipe hunts.

UPDATE: To keep going to the even more extreme $200M Congo mercenary proposal mentioned in Glenn's Instalink, head to Noah's DefenseTech.org.

13 Comments

Commercial EOD work really took off in the post Desert Storm world. The size of the UXO problem in Kuwait was (is) huge. Companies like EODT and UXB in Ashburn, VA recruited a lot of techs.

If the US were to take on the challenge on our nickel, it would take a significant number of our active duty troops YEARS, and the cost massive.

Kuwait pays most of the bill for that work even today. There really isn't a mechanism to work a contract for pay for US soldiers - and that's probably a bad precedent, anyway.

It just makes sense to take non-combat activities and have non-soldiers do them. That way the steely-eyed killers can spend their time doing just that. The killing people and breaking things thing. The part that the non-soldiers can't do.

I find it interesting that the role of these companies (KBR, EODT, etc.) is not restricted to simple logistics / training within the military. The line about EODT handling minesweeping duties, a hazardous, if not necessarily combat oriented role (i.e. people actively shooting at them) struck me in particular. These are companies that have hired ex-military personnel, understand the military culture and mindset, operate within a corporate pseudo-military structure. Sounds like a PMC to me. At what point, I wonder, will companies like this be used to handle more combat focused roles? With the problems that the military has had with recruitment, especially within the reserves, and the idea of a draft unpopular for a host of reasons, will companies like KBR and EODT some day be used to fill the ranks? It raises questions of conflicts of interests, oversight, etc.

I would agree that it might not be the most efficient use of money, for the reasons you state; these companies can lobby for higher contracts. We saw problems like that in the aerospace industry during the cold war. What makes us think we can't see it now? At the same time, from the perspective of the man in the trenches who just needs the job done as quickly as possible with as little noise in the process, I think privatization beats the military peace time mentality hands down. Private contractors have more incentive and make more money. I don't think the military is necessarily as flexible. Building a base in 9 weeks in Kuwait, for example, would have been beyond them.

It's a tough nut to crack. On the one hand outsourcing can get things done more quickly. On the other, the client doesn't necessarily have control over the contractor. I see it all the time on a much smaller scale. At some point the contractor can become indispensable. If you don't want to pay his fees, he walks. It's easy to get stuck in that trap, and I suspect in some ways the U.S. military already has.

'Course, those contractors would probably be happy to be under military discipline if they:
1. Got paid a competitive wage for their skills.
2. Got to concentrate on their mission instead of BS paperwork.
3. Got to stay at the same base long enough for their kids to graduate from high school.

Instead we have a personnel system that pays a skilled engineer the same as a clerk, stresses performance reports and "sensitivity training" above doing the mission, and moves everyone to the other side of the continent ever 2-3 years. The contractor system is an attempt to cover some of the holes left by the personnel system.

now this entry i mostly agree with.

i do think there is cause to be a little more optimistic for this kind of outsourcing, if only because there is plenty of room for future improvement. a bit of innovative troop tranformation, from a static force to a more versatile force structure could go a long way in making better use of outsourced military support and contracting.

i am a bit concerned about the rules governing corporations acting as extensions of our military objectives, but as long as there is decent auditing and attention given to the whole ball of wax i think my concerns can be relatively easily adressed.

This is not really a new wrinkle. If you read your history you will find that the US Gov. has been using outside contractors particulary in engineering, for better then 60 years. Many "civie" construction workers fought, died and were captured in the Pacific during the first year or so of WWII. And no, I am not talking about the SeaBees. They came about once the actual "killing and breaking things" started in earnst on our side. Read the story of Wake Island. Most of the constuction was done by contactors, not the Corp of Engineers. Contractors who didn't take that last boat. Or that nuke boat we lost in the early/middle 60's. It was on a shake down cruise, with a number of contactor/builder rep's on board. So this is not new. But at least it sounds like this time the companies that are hiring on to do these jobs, take the risks seriously.

I've been wondering how many of the people who do the work for these companies are senior NCO's and
the like who were good at their technical work in
the service, but didn't advance in rank fast enough
and ran into "up or out" rules.

I don't know if it's the case, but I wonder.

There tends to be quite a few former military in these kinds of companies. Much cheaper for the company to hire the skills, rather than train them.

The downside for the employee tends to be the 'once a noncom, always a noncom syndrome' and the militaryesque attitudes of management (comprised of former officers with an occasional senior noncom). They tend towards thinking that they retain the authority but don't have to sweat that icky responsibility thing.

I walked away from a lucrative contract overseas because of the inept handling of the human remains department. If I'm doing a difficult job under challenging conditions and all you offer come contract renewal time is 'same terms take it or leave it, you are easy to replace' after telling me for a couple of years how monstrously wonderful I was and how we couldn't do without me well, color me gone.

Anybody who thinks that contractors can just lobby their way into more money hasn't worked any actual government contracts.

Outsourcing is good for the military because there is a statutory limit on the number of servicemembers on active duty. If you put an active duty soldier to work doing something a contractor can do, then you have taken that person off the line and you cannot replace them. Except maybe by an activated reserve/guard person.

And that has its own issues.

The manpower "problem" if you will is one that is codified in law.

Like the Colombia thing that Rep. Schakowsky is complaining about.

Colombia is not a mission that the military said, hey, that looks cool, lets go do it. It is something that our foreign policy apparatus, as funded by the Congress, does. Congress approved it, but said only 400 soldiers. But the job is bigger than just 400 soldiers - it includes stuff that the State Department is doing.

I am sure the Army or Air Force or whoever would fly defoliant missions would prefer to have their pilots behind the wheel of a gunship in Afghanistan instead of doing drug interdiction stuff in Colombia.

Spent 30 years in the AF interfacing with contractors, often touching directly on he contracting-out issue. Its not simple. As it stands today, the contractors are more efficient (don't fight it, they can do it cheaper and usually better) and effective, and the ones I have dealt were perfectly willing to go in harm's way - and did. BUT most of the contractor personnel that did that were ex-GIs and if we substantially increased the level of contractor logistics, I believe the ex-GI pool would run out quick and I'm not so sure that a broader-based civilian pool would be as reliable/courageous.
But we also must keep wholesale and retail logistics separate. Wholesale could do with more contracting out. The people who man the stateside depots don't need to be massively green or blue suit. Where there's a chance of combat - reverse that. Another issue is the ever-increasing technology. Some of our airplanes had/have state-of-the-art technology (FLIRS, low light TVs, TF/TA radars, whatever) that breaks in the field. The technology is great, but a lot of times the problem can't even be properly diagnosed without a contractor technical specialist - much less repaired. Technology will MANDATE having a contractor presence in the field. You know what. It ain't particualrly broken- don't fix it.

I find all this fascinating, especially the historical aspects. Using contractors for combat ops isn't at all without precedent: what the heck is the "letters of marque and reprisal" clause in the Constitution for otherwise? :-)

Having been a military (20 yrs) and contractor for 13 years supporting military one would expect that I would endorse contracting out. But I don't and here's why:

Reducing military slots to actual combat slots makes quality of life for a family hell. Op tempo has to be in the middle. Too little equals incompetence, too much equals high turnover and a "soldier of fortune" self selection process. But the recruiters promise skills and work after the military - doing what ? Killing? Stateside jobs, depot jobs, and training jobs provide a rotation and family stability needed as well as skills for later in life. They also reduce the potential for a "military for life" class of people and provide diversity.

Military contractors have coalesced (under Clintonian bribery schemes like Loral's, to call off the anti trust folks) into huge, vertical, dominant and increasingly bloated bureaucracies, that manage to the bottom line, not military preparedness. For example Lockheed years ago made aircraft, and when they sold one, their job was to kick all the suppliers into providing a quality product. They provided COMPETITION both in price and quality. Today the parts are made in another Lockheed Martin division and once the initial contract is awarded NO COMPETITIVE PRESSURE is possible. (My car dealer will gladly give me a car if I agree that I'd buy parts and service for life only from him. Once I buy it the costs will rise to whatever level can be squeezed out of me. More replacements provide profit so why have reliable systems? Is this a good deal??)

Stability can be provided by civilian government workers but they are managed badly and forget their real goals easily without real military to oversee them. But this is because they are paid a fraction of the contractor wages and thus don't keep the best and brightest. Secondly support military have been taken away from the maintainers - those who understand and will go back to using that equipment when their life depends on it. But if you use military people for support "management" which requires experience, empathy with the soldier you get lifetime COMPETITION and QUALITY. This means that rather than a one time competition for radar repair, engine overhaul etc. you get recompetition. MOTIVATION, QUALITY and COMPETITION thus come from a mixture of civilian and military supporters.

I participated in providing spare parts support for an electronics system which, due to priorities in available dollars, was extended in life many times. The manufacturer flat refused to provide support (although some individuals helped the government under the table) because they wanted to sell their new greatest whiz bang system to replace the old one. Corporate policy was to deny help, refuse engineering assistance etc. and the government was forced to hire companies like mine to engineer and qualify new spare parts just to limp along. Corporate profit will drive contractor decisions and lack of COMPETETION will provide them enormous leverage.

The theme of this long post is simply that COMPETITION and QUALITY need to be assured from the time systems are initially bought, 'till they go to the boneyard. Outsourcing as practiced today is highly non-competitive and lacks motivations for quality. Continuing blind outsourcing your sons and daughters will use deficient systems and have no other skills after their military service, so if they live long enough, they will be forced back into a mercenary army 'till they do die. And taxpayers will guarantee great incomes for the contractors.

Unintended consequences abound with mindless outsourcing to huge companies .

I would first like to respond to Mr. Telenko's comments in regard to contractors. First my time here at Arifjan, Kuwait begins at 05:30, my lunch is at 11:30-12:00 and I finish at 17:00 sharp. My overtime is governed by my COR who is employed by the U.S. Military and is a GS 14. I receive time and 1/4 for overtime according to Kuwaiti labor laws as we, as private contractors, are governed by the laws of our host nation.
You seem to have put forth some effort writing this observation, perhaps a little research effort would have proven more beneficial. I have been here for 4 years and we do make sacrifices. My son has cancer and I have to be here to ensure that we can financially support his treatment and on-going care. I am a well educated man and if I could make the same money in the U.S. I certainly would not elect to leave my son. We are paid to uproot and relocate to another country where we are without many of the conveniences taken for granted in the U.S.
I have worked my ass off for a thankless company Combat Support Associates (CSA,Ltd.)and I was recently terminated for my observations of fraud, waste and abuse. 4 years of loyal service down the drain because the U.S. Military said they would protect me from employer reprecussion. As private contractors we are not at liberty to inform the customer (U.S. Government) of illegal acts, fraud, waste and abuse or any actions that may discredit the company for which we work. Indeed it is the actions of individuals within the private contactor sector that result in a negative light being shed on contractors in general.

[David, I appreciate your spirit and drive, but this post isn't the sort we leave up--it reads too much like an ad, and ads are considered spam. If you were more of a known quantity here, that is to say, had contributed substantive posts, we might let it slide; but this looks too much like a drive-by.

If you want help finding a contractor position in logistics, you might try googling and emailing more appropriate specific "targets". Best wishes for your future. --NM]

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