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Do Americans View Contractors in Iraq as “Expendable Profiteers?” March 7, 2008

Posted by Aaron Walter in Uncategorized.
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In a recent Houston Chronicle article, Steven Schooner, senior associate dean of the George Washington University School of Law and apparent expert on military outsourcing, revealed this as a possible explaination of the lack of public knowledge and debate concerning American, non-military casualties, in Iraq.

“The public all too frequently perceives contractor personnel in Iraq as expendable profiteers, adventure-seekers or marginalized members of society who are not entitled to the same respect or value that they would assign to members of the military.”

I’m not sure that this is a realistic observation of Americans, but for various reason’s our level of overseas civilian presence hasn’t been highlighted in the media, certainly not by television media. Though short, this piece highlights some of the key reasons why the plight of injured contractors once they return would be far from a front burner issue.

Below is the full Feb. 28, 2008 article by David Ivanovich of the Huston Chronicle

WASHINGTON — At least 353 civilian contractors died in Iraq last year, with contractors accounting for more than one in four deaths associated with the U.S. occupation, the Labor Department reported. With those fatalities sparking new questions about the Pentagon’s privatization of military functions, Steven Schooner, senior associate dean at the George Washington University School of Law and an expert on federal procurement law and military contracting, spoke with Chronicle reporter David Ivanovich.

Q: Military planners never expected contractors would represent such a high percentage of fatalities, did they?

A: The cynics might suggest that this is exactly what some policymakers had in mind. Some might suggest that the administration benefits from having such a large contractor presence, because it permits them to represent to the public that our military presence on the ground is smaller than what is actually required. The only number the public cares about is military fatalities. And, therefore, the human cost of our efforts in Iraq looks much less than it would be if we didn’t rely so heavily on contractors.

Q: While there’s been much criticism of the war in Iraq, there has been little discussion about contractor deaths. Why?

A: It’s two things. On the one hand, I criticize the media for not bringing this issue more clearly into the public debate. And this falls into the same category as not aggressively seeking and publishing casket photos. In a representative democracy it’s imperative for the public to be regularly reminded of the human cost of our activities abroad. In defense of the media, this information is tremendously hard to obtain because the Defense Department is not publishing it, and the Labor Department does not appear, or did not previously have a mandate, to make the information that it collected available.

The public all too frequently perceives contractor personnel in Iraq as expendable profiteers, adventure-seekers or marginalized members of society who are not entitled to the same respect or value that they would assign to members of the military. What the public fails to understand is that a significant number of these contractors in Iraq are former military who believe they’re answering the same call they would have, had the crisis arisen a number of years before.

Q: The Pentagon tallies the number of military personnel killed, but the government has not been counting contractor fatalities per se. The numbers reflect insurance claims filed with the Labor Department under the Defense Base Act. Is this appropriate?

A: It’s inappropriate. Second, I believe we’ve seen a legitimate good-faith effort by Congress, in the National Defense Authorization Act, to at least begin to remedy this shortcoming.

Q: Do you think the Bush administration has made a conscious decision to undercount the casualties?

A: While I have no direct evidence that it is a conscious policy, it’s gone on long enough that it can no longer be excused as a mere act of omission. It was not so many years ago when it was commonly accepted that contractor fatalities would be at or around 10 percent. It’s very difficult to accept that the administration isn’t cognizant of the benefits of not putting this important data before the public on a regular basis.

Q: Should the Pentagon rethink its privatization strategy?

A: In the short term, I don’t believe the Pentagon has an option. One of the reasons that we are seeing such a heavy reliance on contractors in Iraq is because of long-standing, congressionally mandated caps on the size of the military. Given what we are trying to do in Iraq, the military has no choice but to rely heavily on contractors. Looking forward, I think that reasonable minds could agree that we should, at least, have a discussion about the extent of contractor involvement.

There are, for example, plenty of contracting success stories in Iraq. I believe military history will someday reflect that the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, or LOGCAP contract, whether staffed by KBR or DynCorp, was one of the most significant advances of the modern era.

Specifically, what this contract has permitted us to do is to project military power around the world at an unprecedented rate. And then, when that force is applied, it permits the military to support our fighting forces at a level and a quality of life that makes them a more potent fighting force.


Read the article in context by clicking here – http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/5580310.html



1. After 1,300+ Contractor deaths, Military death toll in Iraq does not tell the whole story « The Defense Base Act Blog - May 26, 2009

[…] I actually blogged about Mr. Schooner’s March 2007 Houston Chronicle article on the same theme last year. […]

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