As the U.S. military pulls troops and equipment out of Iraq, the State Department will have to rely increasingly on contractors to perform such services as flying rescue helicopters and disarming roadside bombs, a congressional commission warned.
That is not an ideal solution but none other seems available, members of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan said during a July 12 hearing.
While the Defense Department works to reduce its dependence on contractors, the State Department will have to greatly increase its use of hired help.
"Boy, that really troubles me," said Dov Zakheim, a commission member and former Pentagon budget chief. "You're going to be getting contractors not only doing what they're doing today, but doing things that are inherently governmental."
In a scenario spelled out by commission Co-chairman Michael Thibault, if State Department employees working as trainers for the Iraqi police come under fire from Iraqi insurgents, the injured might well have to be rescued by contractors because U.S. military forces are pulling out of the country.
Thibault, who described being rescued by an Army helicopter during his own wartime service, said he would be leery about being rescued by a contract pilot, who he said is unlikely to be as well-trained as a U.S. military pilot.
But the State Department appears to have little choice. It lacks its own force of personnel to fly helicopters, disarm bombs or provide dozens of other services that U.S. military personnel now provide. And the military is scheduled to reduce its Iraq footprint to 50,000 troops in August and be out of that country by the end of next year.
In Iraq, the State Department has relied on the military to recover damaged vehicles and downed aircraft, manage contractors, protect convoys, provide emergency response forces, provide communications support, gather intelligence and more.
In a letter to the Pentagon this spring, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service complained that its capabilities are "inadequate to the extreme challenges in Iraq."
In many countries, the State Department relies on its host nation to provide for emergency needs, security and other services. But Iraq is in no condition to do that.
Thibault said the State Department will have to more than double its force of 2,700 security personnel. And department officials have asked to keep military equipment, including helicopters and mine-resistant armored vehicles.
The State Department also asked to be allowed to continue using the Army's LOGCAP contract and Defense Logistics Agency support to buy food, fuel and other necessities.
The commission criticized a lack of coordination between the two departments as the military moves toward handing the Iraq mission over to the State Department. In a report, the commission has criticized Congress for failing to provide money to pay for support the State Department will need as the military withdraws.
Much of the July 12 hearing, however, focused on whether the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) included enough discussion of the military's increased reliance on contractors.
Thibault complained that the 2010 QDR says even less about using contractors than the 2006 document did. "The new QDR pays scant attention" to planning for contractor use in wartime, he said.
In 1973, when Richard Nixon was president and gasoline was 37 cents a gallon, the Total Force Policy, which created the all-volunteer military, "made a pretty clear statement" about the importance of contractors, Thibault said.
But today, "37 years later, they are still not fully recognized or incorporated in planning and training."
Other commission members counted the times "contingency contracting" - the hiring of contractors for war-zone duties - was mentioned in the QDR.
"There are only three specific mentions," said Charles Tiefer, a law professor. "We have two wars going on and more contractors than troops in those wars, yet the QDR has basically two mentions of things having to do with contractors."
There are "just two mentions," said commissioner Clark Kent Ervin.
Kathleen Hicks, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and forces, offered her own word count. She insisted that the 2010 QDR contains 12 references to contractors compared with nine in the 2006 document.
Hicks said policies on planning for the use of contractors and reducing their numbers have been thoroughly spelled out in instructions from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.