IRAQ/US: Panel says firms need U.S. guidance to reduce contractors in Iraq

Publisher Name: 
Washington Post

The U.S. government is probably paying contractors millions of dollars for unnecessary work in Iraq
because the military is not giving companies clear enough guidance
about reducing their employees, officials on the Commission on Wartime
Contracting said Monday.

There are roughly 102,000 contractors in Iraq, and each contracted
worker can cost the government thousands of dollars a month, according
to federal auditors. Commissioners said they were concerned that the
U.S. military was not providing contractors with key information to
help them synchronize their efforts with the drawdown of combat forces.

There are about 98,000 troops in Iraq, but that figure is expected
to drop to 50,000 by August. At that time, the Pentagon estimates that
the number of contract employees in the country will still exceed
70,000 -- about half the count in January last year.

"Conducting the drawdown of forces . . . is not a simple task like
turning down a thermostat," said Michael Thibault, co-chairman of the
commission. "Thousands of contractor employees must be reassigned or
released. Hundreds of military bases have to be closed or handed over
to the Iraqis. Millions of items of equipment, whether military or
acquired by contractors and now government-owned, must be moved,
donated or scrapped."

The commission, which was appointed in 2008 to look at the use of government contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan,
questioned officials from Houston-based KBR at a hearing Monday about
whether they were reducing their workforce in a cost-effective and
timely way. Under a $38 billion contract, KBR provides a variety of
logistics services, including running dining halls, doing laundry and
transporting supplies for U.S. troops.

Auditors for the Defense Department said late last year that KBR
could save $193 million from January to August this year by reducing
its workforce. But, in a new report, auditors said that KBR's plans for
a drawdown during the same time period would save only $27 million.

KBR officials said they need "written contractual direction" from
the U.S. military about its plans to reduce troops so that it can staff
accordingly.

Douglas Horn, a KBR vice president of operations, told commissioners
that while troop levels will come down, the company still has to
"support those service members who remain." KBR has said that it
expects to have 30,000 employees in Iraq by late summer of this year,
compared with more than 60,000 in March last year.

Lt. Gen. James Pillsbury, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army
Material Command, which helps to oversee the military's contracting
work in Iraq, asserted that the drawdown of contractors in Iraq is on
track. But he said that moving personnel and equipment out of Iraq is a
massive, complex job, with "situations on the ground that are somewhat
fluid."

The "magnitude and scope of the Iraq drawdown is unprecedented,"
Pillsbury said, noting that there are more than 341 facilities; 263,000
soldiers, Defense Department civilians and contractor employees; 83,000
containers; 42,000 vehicles; 3 million equipment items; and roughly $54
billion in assets that will ultimately be removed from Iraq.

Pillsbury said that the effort is "equivalent, in personnel terms
alone, of relocating the entire population of Buffalo, New York."

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