WASHINGTON -- Germany's decision to recall some 2,500 troops that had been protecting American bases in Europe will cost about $100 million to replace, according to Pentagon budget documents.
With the U.S. Army stretched by the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon plans to spend $100 million to hire private security guards to protect its bases in Germany.
The request is outlined in the $82 billion supplemental appropriation request for 2005 the White House submitted to Congress Monday.
In January 2003, Germany offered its own troops to protect about 50 American installations around Europe as U.S. soldiers were pulled off to train and deploy in advance of the war in Iraq. Security had been provided by a mix of soldiers and private security forces.
But last fall, the German government announced it would withdraw some 2,500 German forces from guard duty at American bases after nearly two years, a cost-cutting measure that also came in the wake of the Pentagon announcement that some 70,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Germany.
Installing civilian guards at the gates of military bases is not unprecedented. In January 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers hired DynCorp and ITT for base management in Qatar, including base security. By 2003, there were at least 4,500 civilian guards protecting bases in the United States. The bases were previously protected by military police, most of who were deployed for the war in Iraq. Private guards have also been installed at base gates in Bosnia.
"The driving force behind all this is (that) U.S. forces are stretched thin as a result of bad planning," said Peter Singer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of "Corporate Warriors."
According to the Army, more than half of its active duty, Guard and Reserve forces are deployed overseas, the lion's share in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Moreover, the U.S. military has been almost halved in size since 1991. At the same time, reliance on private contractors has increased exponentially.
"They gutted military police over the last several years ... and it turns out that MPs are more valuable than F/A-22 Raptor (fighter jets)," Singer said.
He said the outsourcing of base security is part of a larger trend to hire private companies to perform duties now occupied by military personnel, ostensibly to free up troops for combat duties.
"It's privatization-mania," said Singer. "They are not taking the time to figure out if they are saving money."
The Center for Public Integrity in September reported the Pentagon spends half its annual budget procuring services and goods from contractors -- more than $900 billion over the last five years. Some 56 percent of the money paid to defense contractors in 2003 went for services rather than weapons or supplies, according to the watchdog group.
Singer has looked at the numbers, and he said they aren't good.
"They are not saving money ... and they haven't tested the market to find out what is the best price" for security, he said.
The awards made for U.S. base security were made without a formal competition for the work. Instead, the Pentagon used a loophole in the law that allows companies owned by Native Americans to be awarded contracts without a formal bidding process. In 2003, two Native American companies partnered with major private security providers to get and perform the contracts which are worth up to $500 million.
"The question is if it is appropriate or not (to contract out guard duties) depends on what roles you consider public issues and what are private," Singer said. "Too often we're not asking those questions."
A senior military official told United Press International the suicide bomber who infiltrated a U.S. mess hall in Iraq in December renewed debate within the service leadership about whether contracting, particularly overseas, has gone too far. The suicide bomber, believed to be an Iraqi hired to work on the base, blew himself up in a mess tent during lunch, killing 22.
"We've cut the military so much we can't go to war without contractors anymore," the senior official complained. "We can do the war fight. We're still expeditionary. But we've made it so we can't take care of ourselves anymore."
This leaves military bases vulnerable as contractors rely on cheap foreign or local labor to perform the low-paid jobs in mess halls and janitorial services -- positions that provide entrÃ©e to possible security problems.
Pentagon officials argue that while contractors may be more expensive in the near-term than hiring and paying new recruits, they don't come with the same long-term healthcare and retirement costs.
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