On Sunday, there was a lengthy front page story The Washington Post that discussed what the U.S. generals are doing in future planning in Iraq. In the article, anonymous generals admit that it would take a year to execute a full withdrawal. They are also planning a possible long-term stay with up to 40,000 troops in Iraq in a Korea-style occupation of many years. The article mentions that there might be 10,000 troops for logistics and "some civilian contractors." Based on the fact that we have around one soldier for every 1.4 contractors in Iraq right now, it most certainly not be just "some" contractors.
No matter what your position on the war or your own personal timetable, you need to know that there is a new reality here. The contractor cost meter is running out of control. No matter where we would place our troops (some on the left are now pushing for some type of military intervention in Darfur) the new normal for the U.S. Army is to place a heavy reliance on private contractors to do the logistics for the troops.
The problem with this new normal is that the contractors, during the Iraq "splurge" i.e. the war and occupation, have run up the costs to unbelievable and unrealistic heights. For example, take KBR, the largest contractor in Iraq, who has been billing the government for the Iraq and Afghanistan occupation for around a half a billion a month for about 140,000 to 150,000 troops. Please read that again, a half a billion a month. They aren't building weapons in a manufacturing plant with high overhead and exotic metals, they are doing service type work such as driving trucks, doing laundry and feeding the troops. They are also have had their employees bill 12 hours days, seven days a week, regardless of the actual work. They have run up the historic costs for this occupation so high that it will become the new baseline for whoever does the contractor logistics work in the future. This baseline of costs is full of waste, fraud and fat and has not been seriously scrubbed by the military.
What does this mean for our national security? This new war service industry has made the Army dependent on them for logistics which caused the Army to let the Army arm of logistics atrophy as they desperately move soldiers around to fill their other needs. Meanwhile, the Army has not reined in these costs so this new exorbitant normal will continue to leach all defense dollars. What this means is that the military will never have enough money for anything that we ask of them. They will complain that they don't have enough funding to properly supply the troops and the Congress and the public will continue to pay the supplemental appropriations for the war and an every increasing defense budget. As long as the contractors are allowed to bill at will with little questioning and oversight, there will never be enough money. They will raise their prices to match or exceed any and all appropriations.
The only comfort we could get from this is that soldiers would be well supplied. All you need to do is look at the media coverage in the past four years to know that is not true. As I outlined with soldier and contractor stories in my book, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, our troops are not getting what they need from the war service industry contractors and the traditional logistics because the out-of-control contractor costs zap all parts of the Army budget. Refusing to adequately do the work while charging the maximum amount is the profit game in Iraq played by many of the contractors. We need to get control of the situation or it will cripple any military endeavor in the future. The Democratic controlled Congress now must take drastic action to force the DOD to scrub and rein in their costs. The Truman Commission did it during World War II and we must do it again if we are to have a viable military.
If you want to learn more about this problem, see the website of my Follow the Money Project.