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Clarification to This Article
This article said that a directive from Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered all military units to cut the number of U.S. contractors by 5 percent each quarter. The Jan. 31 directive referred both to U.S. contractors and to those from foreign countries other than Iraq.

U.S. Moves to Replace Contractors in Iraq

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The decision not to renew Blackwater Worldwide's security contract in Iraq when it expires in early May has left the State Department scrambling to fill a protection gap for U.S. diplomats and civilian officials there.

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Two other U.S. security contractors with a far smaller presence in Iraq -- DynCorp International and Triple Canopy -- have been asked to replace the ousted company, according to State Department and company officials. To meet time, training and security-clearance pressures, officials said, one or both of the firms are likely to undertake the task by rehiring some personnel now working for Blackwater.

The Iraqi government refused to issue Blackwater a license to perform security services after a 2007 incident in which company guards on a diplomatic protection mission shot and killed 17 civilians in Baghdad. U.S. prosecutors have indicted five of the guards on charges of manslaughter. Blackwater (which recently changed its name to Xe) still has State Department contracts for air transport in Iraq and security for U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, fallout from the shootings -- including a new U.S.-Iraq status-of-forces agreement that places contractors under Iraqi legal jurisdiction for the first time -- has led both the Pentagon and the State Department to create new categories of "full-time, temporary" federal jobs to handle some tasks currently done by contractors.

The Blackwater incident helped fuel a wider debate on the overall cost and conduct of contractors. President Obama last week ordered a government-wide review of federal contracting procedures, saying that his administration "will stop outsourcing services that should be performed by the government."

Nowhere has that outsourcing been larger or more contentious than in Iraq, where contractors have long outnumbered the U.S. military presence, even at its peak of 160,000 troops.

The days of massive U.S. reconstruction contracts in Iraq are over, with little to show for tens of billions of dollars spent, according to government auditors. While the military continues to outsource much of its supply chain, contracts for services such as transport and food will diminish as combat forces begin to draw down.

In a commandwide directive issued Jan. 31, Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered all military units to start cutting U.S. contractors at a target rate of 5 percent each quarter and to hire more Iraqis to do their jobs. "As we transition more responsibility and control to the government of Iraq, it's time to make this change," he added.

However, some contracted activities, from training Iraqi forces to strategic communications, are likely to increase as troops withdraw, and certain U.S. contractors are seen as irreplaceable. "Human terrain" experts -- civilian social scientists and linguists hired to help the military better understand Iraq and Iraqis -- have been told that they must accept newly created government jobs, at potentially lower salaries, or leave. The highly touted human terrain program, which fields 20 teams of five to nine specialists in Iraq and six in Afghanistan, was begun by Odierno's predecessor, Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Program head Steve Fondacaro said that when hazardous-duty, locality and other government pay benefits are added, total compensation will be competitive with the private sector at $147,000 to $236,000 a year. He estimated that at least 60 of about 100 currently contracted specialists would accept the year-long government jobs, with annual renewal options for up to four years, even though some have complained anonymously on blogs that the new arrangement constitutes an unacceptable pay cut.

Avoiding legal problems in Iraq, Fondacaro said, was more of an impetus for the move than cost-cutting. Although no U.S. contractor has been arrested under the new status-of-forces agreement, which became effective in January, he said the risks were too great in a country whose legal system is "a shambles." He is also putting the same program in place for human terrain specialists in Afghanistan.

"I had to take action to protect our people and protect our mission," Fondacaro said.


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