When a Private Contractor Just Isn't Enough

The problem of using contractors to train foreign security forces goes beyond the shortcomings of Blackwater. With too few trained federal employees to lead them, contractors must make important decisions ad hoc.
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In my last post I noted that Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) is very much in the running to win a contract potentially worth as much as a billion dollars training the Afghan National Police.

Whether Xe can do that well, given the past problems that its subsidiary Paravant had in its contract training the Afghan National Army, as detailed in the Feb. 24 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing is anyone's guess.

DynCorp is another private military contractor, which has trained foreign police forces, although it did such a bad job in Iraq that the Army took the job back from them. Dyncorp was also criticized for its work in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless on Wednesday, in a letter to the New York Times, DynCorp President and CEO William Ballhaus wrote,

My own company, DynCorp International, is not one of the pre-selected bidders under the technology procurement vehicle now being used for police training, notwithstanding our history of providing more than 6,000 highly experienced police advisers in 11 countries over the last 15 years... Our current contract enables us to continue to perform on this important mission until the contract expires in July. This is ample time to conduct a full and open competition. Doing so will help ensure the best value for the taxpayer and provide the best outcome for our combatants in the field supporting the mission and the Afghan people.

But the problem of using contractors to train foreign security forces goes beyond Blackwater or the use of any other private firm.

The reason for that was given in another hearing that happened two days before the SASC hearing. This was a hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting entitled, "An Urgent Need: Coordinating Reconstruction and Stabilization in Contingency Operations."

During the second panel, Robert Perito, Director of the Security Sector Governance Initiative, U.S. Institute of Peace, had this exchange with Mr. Henke, one of the CWC Commissioners:

MR. HENKE: You make the statement in that third recommendation that the current heavy reliance on private contractors also undercuts progress towards unity of effort in the field. Since the topic of the hearing today is really unity of effort and synchronization of effort, can you expound on those views and tell us why you believe that to be the case?"

MR. PERITO: In this mission for the first time historically the leadership was passed to the Department of Defense and for good reason at the time. Historically, the leadership for police training in post- conflict interventions had been with the Department of State and Department of Justice. The Department of Justice where I headed the ICITAP Program which trained police in Somalia and in Haiti and in Bosnia and in Kosovo where you had full-time law enforcement professionals in charge of the training. You know, that worked fairly well, but that model was abandoned when we got to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is Iraq and Afghanistan is as follows: Without anyone involved in the police training effort who is a law enforcement professional, the leadership and the determination of what goes on in those projects then shifts to contractors. The contractors then are left to come up based on their own devices with what is to be done. And what we've had in Afghanistan as you're aware is the FDD [Focused District Development] in which only 32 hours of the eight-week program is devoted to police skills, and the contracting company that has that responsibility really doesn't provide overall guidance to its people who then make up out of their own experiences what is to be done.

And so unless you have an adequate cadre of trained federal employees to supervise this and other operations, what you get is ad hocery on the part of contractors who are placed in a situation where they have to decide on the spot what to do.

MR. HENKE: But aren't the bulk of the contractors there, though, law enforcement security professionals drawn from across the U.S.?

MR. PERITO: That's exactly the case. They are people who are former law enforcement professionals of various lengths of experience and expertise who are drawn from across the United States, and they go through a nine-day orientation program which I've seen up close and actually participated in.

MR. HENKE: With the contractor?

MR. PERITO: With the contractors, which is more about how do you get from A and how do you get your uniform than what you're supposed to be doing, and then they're deployed in the field. And so they're left pretty to make it up as they go. This is not their fault. These are courageous people. I wouldn't take that away from them. These are very brave people, and they're trying to do the best they can. But there's no overarching theory.

The book that I described earlier looks at how you train police in counter-insurgency operations. It's called Police and War. We went out and looked at agencies engaged and asked them what is your curriculum that you're giving to your trainers to use, and the answer is we don't have one.

MR. HENKE: Right. That sounds like an execution problem, not really a unity of effort problem. So why do you think it's a unity of effort problem?

MR. PERITO: Well, in the beginning I think, if you go back to Bosnia and Kosovo, you did have a certain unity of effort in which you had the Department of State and Department of Justice drawing on their particular expertise with the support of the United States military to do this.

MR. HENKE: But why? Were they -- because they were federal civilian employees?

MR. PERITO: They were all federal civilian employees or at least the direction of the program was in the hands of federal civilian employees, and that ended with Iraq where you had the U.S. military pretty much in charge working through the State Department which outsourced to a contractor.

MR. HENKE: Okay. So your solution would be to do what? I'm curious what the answer is. MR. PERITO: Well, I think drawing on what's been said by the members of the panel, first of all you need a larger cadre of federal employees in State and AID and the Department of Justice who have the requisite background and support and expertise, and then you need to deploy those people. And then if you use contractors, then you need people who are in charge and understand the mission that can help those contractors and provide them with guidance so that they can do their jobs. But that's not what we have today.

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