06/29/2010 09:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Three Imperative C's: Comprehending Contracting Culture

Remember the Human Terrain System Program? That's the U S. Army program which embeds social scientists with combat brigades in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to help tacticians in the field understand local cultures.

Perhaps we need to bring a HTS team home to decipher and understand the military contracting culture. That, at least, is the conclusion of a written GAO testimony, released today at a congressional hearing. It suggests that what we need for better contracting is cultural change.

Titled "Cultural Change Needed to Improve How DOD Plans for and Manages Operational Contract Support" the statement by William Solis, GAO Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, given today at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, finds that:

DOD still faces challenges that stem from the department's failure to fully integrate operational contract support within DOD, including planning for the use of contractors, training military personnel on the use of contractor support, accurately tracking contractor use, and establishing measures to ensure that contractors are accountable. A cultural change in DOD that emphasizes an awareness of operational contract support throughout all aspects of the department, including planning, training, and personnel requirements, would help the department address these challenges in ongoing and future operations.

Among other things Solis's testimony updates contractor numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq and Afghanistan contractor personnel now outnumber deployed troops. For example, according to DOD, as of March 2010, there were more than 95,000 DOD contractor personnel operating in Iraq and more than 112,000 DOD contractor personnel operating in Afghanistan. While the number of troops fluctuates based on the drawdown in Iraq and the troop increase in Afghanistan, as of June 2010 there were approximately 88,000 troops in Iraq and DOD estimates that the number of troops in Afghanistan will increase to 98,000 by the end of fiscal year 2010. DOD anticipates that the number of contractor personnel will grow in Afghanistan as the department increases its troop presence in that country. However, these numbers do not reflect the thousands of contractor personnel located in Kuwait and elsewhere who support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. By way of contrast, an estimated 9,200 contractor personnel supported military operations in the 1991 Gulf War.

Solis's concludes thusly:

Looking toward the future, the challenges we have discussed demonstrate the need for DOD to consider how it currently uses contractors in contingency operations, how it will use contractors to support future operations, and the impact that providing management and oversight of these contractors has on the operational effectiveness of deployed units.

These considerations would also help shift the department's culture as it relates to operational contract support. As DOD doctrine recognizes, operational contract support is more than just logistical support. Therefore, it is important that a significant culture change occur, one that emphasizes operational contract support throughout all aspects of the department, including planning, training, and personnel requirements. It is especially important that these concepts be institutionalized among those serving in leadership positions, including officers, noncommissioned officers, and civilians. Only when DOD has established its future vision for the use and role of contractors supporting deployed forces and fully institutionalizes the concepts of operational contract support can it effectively address its long-term capability to oversee and manage those contractors.