It Came From Annex W

05/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today, the day after the Commission on Wartime Contracting held a hearing on managing contracting during the Iraqi drawdown, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report that confirmed some of the same points the Commission made.

The CWC noted that the Pentagon had often not provided the necessary guidance contractors need to do their job

The GAO report "DOD Needs to Improve Its Planning for Using Contractors to Support Future Military Operations" found that although DOD guidance has called for the integration of an operational contract support annex--Annex W--into combatant command operation plans since February 2006, the department has made limited progress in meeting this requirement. Planners identified 89 plans that may require an Annex W. As of February 2010, only four operation plans with Annex Ws have been approved by the Secretary of Defense or his designee, and planners have drafted Annex Ws for an additional 30 plans.

Four out of 89 is 4 percent. Even if the additional thirty plans were approved today that would still only be 38 percent. That is not what one calls outstanding work.

According to combatant command officials, most of the draft Annex Ws developed to date restated broad language from existing DOD guidance on the use of contractors to support deployed forces but included few details on the type of contractors needed to execute a given plan, despite guidance requiring Annex Ws to list contracts likely to be used in theater.

Remember that this is not just an issue for Iraq or Afghanistan. Starting in September 2007, each of the six geographic combatant commands was allocated joint operational contract support planners to assist them in drafting these annexes. These contract support planners have been reviewing existing operation plans to determine the extent to which they address operational contract support. Based on their review, the planners identified 89 plans that may require an Annex W.

Let's remember that the United States is the only country in the world that divides the world into military fiefdoms, oops, I mean "combatant commands." And every one of those American proconsuls, darn, I mean combatant commanders, now relieves heavily on private contractors to accomplish his mission.

Yet combatant command planners told the GAO that they are unable to identify specific contract support requirements as called for in Annex W guidance because of the limited amount of information contained in most operation plans.

Meanwhile back at the Puzzle Palace, oops, I meant the Pentagon, military officials are pointing fingers at each other, saying it is the other guy's responsibility to develop Annex W plans.

According to the GAO:

We found that several senior DOD officials have the expectation that most combatant command plans should at least identify the capabilities that contractors may provide, regardless of the level of plan. For example:
• Office of the Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Program Support) (ADUSD(PS)) officials told us that the Annex W should provide details on the numbers and roles of contractors required to support an operation.
• Other senior DOD officials involved in reviewing plans for contract support requirements told us that they expected that planners could figure out the major force elements needed under a plan and then determine the contractor support required.

However, the contract support planners and other officials responsible for developing the Annex Ws disagreed, stating that given the limited amount of information on military forces in most operation plans

The report makes one wonder just how aware are the Keystone Cops, oops, I mean Department of Defense officials, that private military contractors are now integral to U.S. military operations. The GAO said:

DOD acknowledges that contractors will likely play a significant role in support of future operations and has long recognized the risks inherent in its use of and reliance on contractors. However, combatant command officials responsible for writing operation plans told us that they were not aware of any assumptions specifically addressing the potential use or role of operational contract support in their base plans.

This is not just comical but potentially deadly. As the GAO report concludes:

DOD's challenges to integrating the potential use and role of contractors into its operation plans are exacerbated by shortcomings in guidance and a lack of institutionalization of the department's organizational approach to requirements definition for contractors and developing and funding personnel with clear roles and appropriate expertise. A one-size-fits-all approach to defining Annex W requirements has contributed to an expectations mismatch between senior DOD leadership and combatant command planners regarding the level of information the annexes should contain. Similarly, a lack of specific guidance has enabled combatant commands to choose varying approaches with regard to what plans require Annex Ws. As a result, DOD senior leadership is unable to look across the combatant command plans and assess or address the department's overall reliance on contractors to execute future operations.

Similarly, the limited discussion of operational contract support in other sections of operations plans, including the base plan, limits the ability of combatant commanders and senior DOD leadership to evaluate and react to the potential risks of reliance on contractors. With contractor personnel equaling or at times outnumbering military personnel in current operations, the failure to include the likely use of contractors among base plan assumptions or the lack of discussion of the role contractors may play in the various phases of an operation could create significant risks in executing plans.