Epistemology is useful to keep in mind when considering private military and security contractors (PMC) because so much of what passes for common wisdom or orthodoxy is based on assertions and generalizations instead of verified facts.
For example, PMC critics revile them as mercenaries, when spending just a second looking at the definition spelled out in the Geneva Conventions confirms that they clearly are not. While PMC supporters have been casually asserting for decades that PMC are always more effective than their public sectors counterparts, without providing any empirically sound data to back up their claims.
Even more disturbing is the reality that the government still can’t get its act together to produce even the most basic facts about the PMC it does business with.
A case in point is the testimony released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Appearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Armed Services John P. Hutton, director, acquisition and sourcing management, spoke on “Iraq and Afghanistan: Agencies Face Challenges in Tracking Contracts, Grants, Cooperative Agreements, and Associated Personnel.”
The background to this is that to help increase oversight of activities supporting DOD, State, and USAID’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, required the agencies to identify common databases of information on their contracts, grants, cooperative agreements, and associated personnel. In their July 2008 memorandum of understanding the three agencies designated the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) as their system for tracking the required information.
Before SPOT the systems for tracking PMC in Iraq and Afghanistan were widely seen as inadequate.
The Pentagon released a report in 2005, required by the FY 2005 Defense Authorization Act, which noted that there was no single‐source collection point for information on incidents in which contractor employees supporting deployed forces and reconstruction efforts in Iraq have been engaged in hostile ﬁre or other incidents of note.
At that time, the only existing databases for collecting data on individual contractors were the Army Material Command Contractor Coordination Cell (CCC) and Civilian Tracking System (CIVTRACKS).
The CCC was a manual system dependent on information supplied to it by contractors. It identiﬁed contractors entering and leaving the theater, companies in the area of responsibility (AOR),and local contracting officer representatives (CORs) and enabled local authorities/CORs to report contractor status, providing a means of liaison among the local COR and the assigned airport point of debarkation and helping to reconcile contractors with companies.
CIVTRACKS answered the “who, when, and where” of civilian deployments. It accounted for civilians (Department of the Army civilians, contractor personnel, and other civilians deployed outside the continental United States in an operational theater).
It was not until May 2006 that the Army Central Command and MultiNational Force‐Iraq (MNF-I) undertook a new effort to develop a full accounting of government contractors living or working in Iraq, seeking to ﬁll an information gap that remains despite previous efforts. A memorandum issued by the Ofﬁce of Management and Budget’s Ofﬁce of Federal Procurement Policy asked military services and federal agencies to assist Central Command and MNF-I by providing information by June 1, 2006.
The request sought data for contractors, including the companies and agreements they worked under, the camps or bases at which they were located, the services — such as mail, emergency medical care, or meals — they obtained from the military, their specialty areas, whether they carried weapons, and government contracting personnel associated with them.
In October 2006 it was reported that an Army effort to count the number of contractors working or living in Iraq, pursuant to a call from the Office of Management and Budget, had foundered.
The truth is, for most of the time since the United States went to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon simply didn’t know how many contractors worked in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, which includes both countries.
In summer 2007, the Pentagon kept tabs on about 60,000 contractors with SPOT. By the end of the year, it planned to use SPOT to register all contractors who work in the Central Command’s area of responsibility.
Yet according to Hutton SPOT still has a long way to go. And that hurts both the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. taxpayers.