02/28/2012 02:08 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2012

To Use or Not to Use PSMC: That is the Question

In the endless debate over whether private companies or the government should do functions that once upon a time used to be considered "inherently governmental," i.e. functions that only the government should do, a new government report will likely satisfy no one.

This past Thursday the U.S. Government Accountability Office released Department of Defense Effort to Train Afghan Police Relies on Contractor Personnel to Fill Skill and Resource Gaps. It examined the role of U.S. government (USG), non-USG coalition, and DOD contractor personnel in the Afghan National Police training program.

As of November 2011, about 778 USG, non-USG coalition, and DOD contractor personnel provided ANP training and mentoring at 23 NATO-managed sites. Approximately 66 percent of these trainers and mentors were non-USG coalition personnel, 21 percent were USG personnel, and the remaining 13 percent were DOD contractor personnel. In addition, about 2,825 DOD contractor personnel provided maintenance, logistics, and security services at 12 NATO-managed training sites.

One of the key findings was that:

After assuming program responsibility from State in 2009, DOD did not assess the advantages or disadvantages of using USG or contractor personnel for the ANP training program and has not assessed the potential impact of transferring responsibilities to USG personnel for the ANP training program since awarding the contract to DynCorp in 2010.

A little background is necessary to understand why this is important.

The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan depends in part on building that country's capacity to provide for its own security by training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces, which includes the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police (ANP). Since 2002, the United States has allocated over $43 billion to train, equip, and sustain the Afghan National Security Forces, which includes about $14 billion to train, equip, and sustain the ANP. The ANP training program is intended to create and sustain a professionally-led police force that is accountable to the Afghan people and is capable of enforcing laws and maintaining civil order.

From 2002 through 2010, the Department of State (State) was involved in the ANP training program. During this time, State contracted with DynCorp International (DynCorp) to provide police mentors and trainers and to develop and execute the ANP training program. DOD became involved in ANP training in 2004, working in conjunction with State, DynCorp, and others.

In 2009, DOD became the lead U.S. agency for helping Afghanistan reform the ANP and the Afghan Ministry of Interior, which oversees the ANP.

In December 2010, DOD awarded DynCorp a new contract for ANP training, mentoring, maintenance, logistics, and security support. The contract has a potential value over $1 billion, if all options are exercised.

In a June 2010 report, the Senate Committee on Armed Services expressed concern about problems with the ANP training program, including lapses in oversight and management of the contract that were identified by the DOD and State Inspectors General.

In January 2011, Congress required that the GAO report on the use of U.S. government (USG) personnel, rather than contractor personnel, to train the ANP.

Now contractors frequently claim that they can quickly provide the people with the necessary skills to carry out training missions like this. They might be right, they might be wrong. A fair-minded person would say 'show us the data so we have a basis on which to make the decision.' In that sense it is extremely disheartening to find out that the Pentagon did not assess the pros and cons of using private contractors.

According to the GAO:

DOD officials told us they did not assess the impact of transferring ANP training responsibilities from contractors to USG personnel because USG agencies do not have sufficient personnel with the needed skills in civilian policing available to provide all the trainers and mentors needed by the ANP training program. DOD officials in Washington, D.C., and Afghanistan agreed that contractor personnel were used to fill skill and resource gaps. For that reason, these officials informed us, the ANP training program cannot fulfill its mission without using contractor personnel.

So just because you can't do it yourself you assume the contractor you hire does a great job? Now, that is not a criticism of DynCorp. For all anyone knows it might have done a terrific job. After all, it is reasonable to assume that they might be better able to provide personnel to provide training and mentoring in civilian policing skills, as well as in more advanced areas of expertise such as criminal investigation, interrogation, and forensic crime scene analysis.

But for the government to say it doesn't assess the benefits and liabilities of using contractors is, at the very least, a missed opportunity.

To paraphrase what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote in one of his famed snowflake memos back in 2003, today, we lack metrics to know if the benefits of using private military and security contractors exceed the costs.

We should not miss such opportunities in the future.