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.
Page 2 of 2   <      

U.S. Moves to Replace Contractors in Iraq

Fondacaro pointed to the Rockville-based contractor BAE Systems, which he said has informed employees that it would no longer accept liability for any legal problems they might have in Iraq and suggested they stay inside U.S. military installations at all times. "So here I am, paying exorbitant contractor wages for people whose company is not going to provide them any legal defense, and is recommending they don't go outside" to make contact with Iraqis, he said. "Which is mission failure."

By making the specialists into government employees, Fondacaro said, "this all goes away in one fell swoop. . . . They are protected under U.S. law and have the same rights and privileges as U.S. troops," including immunity from Iraqi taxes and arrest.

Lucy Fitch, BAE Systems senior vice president for communications, said the "government has told us they wish to convert contractor positions in Iraq and Afghanistan to government positions" when the company's contract expires in August, but she called Fondacaro's description of company instructions "inaccurate."

BAE employees were advised during December and January to stay inside U.S. military installations "until we could figure out . . . the legal implications and personal risk" under the new status-of-forces agreement, Fitch said. In a clarification last month, she said, employees were told that the company would "assist them in finding in-country legal representation" if they were prosecuted or sued for any reason in Iraq. If problems were related to "actions properly undertaken for BAE Systems," she added, "we will provide them counsel at the company's expense."

The State Department has also created new temporary government jobs in Iraq, but for a different purpose. Following the 2007 Blackwater shooting, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered that a federal security agent ride along on each of the contractor-protected convoys that carry U.S. diplomats, aid and other civilians -- including provincial reconstruction team members based in Baghdad neighborhoods and around the country -- outside their official compounds.

State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security not only handles security for embassies and other civilian outposts around the globe but also protects foreign officials visiting the United States. With only 1,600 highly trained special agents in the bureau, the Iraq mandate has severely stretched the service. "You'd need the entire [Diplomatic Security] workforce just to do Iraq," a senior State Department official said, "leaving nothing for Afghanistan, nothing for anywhere else in the world."

In postings on government job sites last month, State solicited "Protective Security Specialists," a new job category offering lower pay -- $52,221 with guaranteed employment for 13 months, renewable for up to five years -- and requiring less training than full-fledged agents.

Riding along on convoys and making sure that security contractors follow the rules, the official said, does not require "all that training and experience. . . . We had a lot of applicants."

Listed qualifications, seemingly designed for former security contractors, included "at least three years of specialized experience conducting overseas protective security operations within the last five years. Experience in Iraq, Afghanistan or Israel is particularly desirable."

<       2

© 2009 The Washington Post Company