But problems with contractor oversight predate the war in Iraq. The number of acquisition professionals employed by the government was reduced dramatically under changes initiated by the Clinton administration in the 1990s that were intended to make the contracting process more efficient. During that decade, the Defense Department's procurement and acquisition staff was reduced from about 461,000 to 231,000, according to a 2000 report by the Defense Department's inspector general. Critics say the remaining contracting officials are often stretched too thin.
Allan V. Burman, former administrator for federal procurement policy who now heads the government division of Jefferson Consulting Group, said he believes the problems that emerged in Iraq reflect "the cutbacks in staff and, to a degree, it reflects how much people understand their role as an overseer of contractors doing work."
Military officials say that care is now being taken to ensure that civilian workers at Abu Ghraib have proper credentials and that new contract workers are closely observed.
(Ceerwan Aziz -- Reuters)
When new contract employees arrived in Iraq, the Fay report says, they were interviewed and assigned to duties by a CACI employee rather than a military officer. This arrangement created the potential for problems, Kern said, because an individual working for a contracting company might let an unqualified co-worker slip through in order to get the job done.
Lack of oversight also may have contributed to situations in which contract employees were improperly placed in positions of authority over soldiers, the Fay report says.
Fay said in an interview that there were two instances in which CACI's staffers held authority over soldiers. In one, a CACI employee led an interrogation team for several weeks. In another, an employee of CACI was in charge of detainee assessment operations.
"The day-to-day supervision of who was doing what and how the work was being done fell to the contractors, and that was inappropriate," Fay said. "When you're talking about the supervision of day-to-day operations, of how people do their jobs . . . that's something the Army should do."
London said the incidents described by Fay did not involve giving CACI employees any substantial authority. "We have no evidence that our people were, at any time, in supervisory roles. And we know that they weren't contracted to do so."
Fay said the Army created a task force that considered his panel's recommendations and is putting them into effect. The general described the new procedures for civilian employees arriving at Abu Ghraib that he said are intended to ensure that civilian interrogators have qualifications and training equal to that of their military counterparts.
"The contractors we have now have been screened, have been certified and are gathering intelligence that saves lives," Fay said.
Groups representing government contractors agree with the Fay report that contracting arrangements work best when sufficient oversight personnel are available, especially in demanding environments such as wartime Iraq.
"We need to focus on how we can do this better next time," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington organization that represents government contractors. Soloway has recommended that the military give more officers authority to modify contracts to fit their needs on the battlefield.
A proposed Senate amendment to the fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill that would have prohibited contractors from conducting or translating prisoner interrogations with the military was defeated in June.
In August, the Army awarded CACI a new contract for interrogation services in Iraq that could be worth up to $23 million over six months.
London said his company has taken several new steps as "a little bit of extra insurance." He said these include its own briefing for new employees being sent to Iraq to review the Geneva Conventions as a supplement to the military's training, a monthly meeting of the company's senior leaders to review its activities in Iraq and approval of all new hires for Iraq by the company's chief operating officer.
"We continue to work" in Iraq, London said, "because there is an incredible demand. The terrorists are trying like hell to stop the elections. . . . There is a critical need right now to continue to gather information and use these intelligence-gathering and interrogative interview techniques to find out which detainees are the terrorists."Staff writers Renae Merle and Jerry Markon contributed to this report.