Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008 | 2:07 a.m.
The United States has used private contractors to perform noncombat functions during military operations going back to the Revolutionary War. But there has been a much higher volume of outsourcing for the war in Iraq than in any previous major U.S. military conflict.
This has not necessarily been a good thing. There has already been considerable controversy over skirmishes involving private security forces, such as the one in which 17 Iraqis were killed last year by Blackwater Worldwide guards. There have also been accusations of war profiteering by the likes of Halliburton, the oil services company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney.
There are now even more reasons to doubt the wisdom of relying so heavily on private contractors, according to a report released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office.
One of the report’s conclusions was that “the costs of a private security contract are comparable with those of a U.S. military unit performing similar functions.” That would appear to dispel the notion that privatizing a service is necessarily less expensive than letting government handle the task.
The report also stated that military commanders have less authority over contractors than over military and civilian government personnel, and that the legal status of contract workers in Iraq is uncertain, “particularly for those who are armed.” This, too, is troubling because it means that contractors and their employees in Iraq are less accountable for their actions than are U.S. combat forces and civilian government workers.
This is a big problem because contractors in Iraq cost U.S. taxpayers $85 billion from 2003 to 2007, the report stated. That represented nearly 20 percent of all U.S. funding for operations in Iraq, and included money spent on services such as logistics support, construction, petroleum products and food.
The Bush administration and Congress would be wise to rethink our heavy reliance on private contractors in Iraq. A military conflict is no place to cut corners on accountability, which is why the reliance on outsourcing during the war in Iraq has been such a fiasco.