Today the blogosphere is buzzing with news regarding yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Xe Services subsidiary Paravant in Afghanistan or the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) which would make it the military's responsibility to use its own personnel to train troops and police, guard convoys, repair weapons, run military prisons and do military intelligence activity.
But I think the most newsworthy event of the past week is the Feb. 22 hearing, "An Urgent Need: Coordinating Reconstruction and Stabilization in Contingency Operations" held by the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting.
If one believes, as I do, that private military and security contractors (PMSC) are here to stay for the foreseeable future, then the work of the CWC is indispensable. It is one of very few bodies out there taking a dispassionate look at the role and impact of contractors and seeing what does and does not work. On February 22, 2010, the CWC conducted a hearing entitled, "An Urgent Need: Coordinating Reconstruction and Stabilization in Contingency Operations." The Commission will post the hearing transcript soon here.
The hearing examined reconstruction and stabilization roles and responsibilities; planning and cooperation across U.S. government agencies, coalition partners, non-governmental organizations, and host-nation communities; and consideration of sustainability by host governments when assessing potential projects.
That hearing would be of particularly interest to the industry trade group IPOA. Its founder Doug Brooks, wrote earlier today in a comment to an article on OMB Watch that::
IPOA is the Association of the Stability Operations Industry. Note that as of last year we are just 'IPOA,' however the 'peace operations' terminology came from the academic definition, meaning we represent companies that work in peacekeeping, peace enforcement and stability operations - also disaster relief of course.
For all the press coverage of various negative aspects of PMSC it is easy to forget that oversight and accountability is improving. Perhaps not as quick as people would like or is necessary but indisputably better than the gold rush days of the first few years of the Iraq war.
Just yesterday the U.S. Army announced that it has more than doubled the amount of Contracting Officers Representatives, (COR), in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last year in an effort to improve oversight. Within the last year, the number of COR in Iraq has jumped from a 59-percent fill rate up to a 94-percent fill rate. Similarly, the number of COR in Afghanistan has more than doubled, jumping from a 38-percent fill rate in January of last year to an 80-percent fill rate by January of this year.
When it comes to PMSC most people miss the PMC forest for the PSC trees. By that I mean most of the publicity is focused on the relatively minor number of security contractors and ignore the far greater number of people and money in logistics or reconstruction efforts.
Since the war in Afghanistan will eventually be won, if it is won, by the ability of the Afghan government to make life better for its citizens, reconstruction and development efforts are crucially important. If private contractors can be of assistance in a timely, on budget, way more power to them.
As CWC Co-Chairs Michael Thibault and Christopher Shays said in their opening statement:
Contractors figure heavily in reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Southwest Asia. Our main concern today, however, is not the process and detail of contingency contracting. It is the strategic concern about the roles and responsibilities, the planning, the visibility, and especially the inter-agency coordination of efforts that rely on contracts. Without good planning, visibility, and coordination among agencies and nations, the risk of waste through unneeded, unwanted, duplicative, or unsustainable projects is high.
That said, one PMSC, DynCorp, could be doing a better job, according to one of the witnesses, Seth Jones, a political scientist with the RAND Corporation, and adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University. Mr. Jones spent most of last year traveling with Army Special Forces teams in Afghanistan. Consider this exchange during the question and answer session:
MR. TIEFER: Okay. Now I want to take that over to the contracting side. You mentioned in your statement today briefly your view that, quote, "The quality of DynCorp police trainers varied widely." That's one of the most benign statements I've seen you make about DynCorp.
And here's what I want to get at. You know DynCorp originally got the Afghan police training contract because there's a limited State Department schedule - three contractors, PA&E, CPI and Dyn. It had to go to one of those three. It went to Dyn. What you say, besides that the quality varied widely, is that -- well, let's take a look. It's a great book. I really recommend it to people.
"DynCorp, International set the tone for this sorry state of affairs early on and some of the blame can be assigned to them. Senior Bush administration officials had more scathing criticism of DynCorp. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage similarly told me that" -- your interview with him; you went to everybody, apparently -- "DynCorp simply didn't do a good job in training the police."
What do you think? Should that contract, at the very least, have had full and open competition so that you could have seen whether there was someone better on the scene than DynCorp to give the contract to? I know you're not as deeply into contracting as we are or I am anyway, but should it have been fully and openly competed?
MR. JONES: In my view, full and open competition is generally always the better option, especially in a situation where I think the effectiveness of the police forces was fairly low, and I think that a lot of the information we had on the ground was low effectiveness of police.
MR. TIEFER: How many years has that been true, that we've been training them and their effectiveness has been low?
MR. JONES: It's about five or six years.
MR. TIEFER: I asked Mr. Schneider whether it's going to take quite a while to remedy that. Do you agree?
MR. JONES: I think police training is an extraordinarily long process. I would note there was no training done during the Taliban years. No police even existed in the early 1990s, so we started completely from scratch in 2002 and 2003 -- from scratch. No trained police at all.
MR. TIEFER: But isn't it the case that our programs have not made the kind of progress we would have liked? Do you kind of agree that taking ex-New York City police isn't the best way to train Afghan police to do their very different jobs? MR. JONES: I think even based on those initial starting conditions, yes, we are not where we should be on the police training. Army is a slightly different situation. On the police front, yes, I strongly agree.