The checklist that Science Applications International Corp. gives employees about to be deployed to Iraq includes such practical suggestions as how much underwear to bring (enough for two weeks) and what type of insect repellents work best (those containing the chemical DEET). The company recommends that employees complete personal wills and assign powers of attorney before shipping off.
Preparing bids for contract work in Iraq can be lengthy and arduous; landing on the ground and getting the job done is taxing and dangerous. Dozens of contractors have died in attacks and accidents; others have been kidnapped and held hostage. But beneath those obvious challenges is a thick layer of logistical and human resources tasks -- such as preparing the checklist SAIC hands out -- that companies sending workers into a war zone must take on.
"It's a tremendous amount of work," said Anita Jones, corporate manager of international human resources for SAIC, which is based in San Diego and has its headquarters for federal business in McLean. The company has about 50 employees in Iraq. "We've been working on our program since before the conflict in Iraq, and we are constantly updating. . . . The issues in Iraq are changing daily."
Much of the work is sorting through details to make sure that employees can do their jobs as well as possible after they arrive in Iraq, Jones said. That means figuring out beforehand how workers are going to travel to the region and get into the country and where they are going to live. It also means making sure that employees have access to money, the right type of footwear and enough medication to last the length of their deployment.
Companies are often well-equipped to do the complicated work for which they've been hired, but some contractors are surprised by the amount of preparation it takes to do that work in wartime conditions, said Neil C. Livingstone, chief executive of Global Options Inc., a Washington consulting firm that has run seminars for companies getting ready to go into Iraq.
Beyond getting individual employees ready for departure, companies have to grapple with providing security for all of their workers and making sure each is covered by health and life insurance, Livingstone said. Some contractors may find that the costs of doing business in Iraq outweigh the benefits. "It's a formidable undertaking, especially if you're looking at a relatively small contract," he said.
JB Management Inc., a 100-person Alexandria firm with three or four employees working in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past few years, mitigates its risks by sending personnel with experience in the military. Still, the company takes on more obligations whenever it sends workers to provide technical support services in dangerous places, said President Leonard G. Nowak.
"There are family considerations. Just as the military goes through family separation trauma, you have the same thing with civilians. You need to be able to support families when your employees are not there," Nowak said.
Social services become an unofficial part of the benefits package when employees are sent into a war, executives said.
MVM Inc., a Vienna security company, conducts psychological tests to make sure workers can handle the stress of war zones.
Robert L. Rubin, senior vice president of the company, often gets calls from worried spouses and parents when they can't get in touch with employees in Iraq or when other contractor casualties are reported. Rubin said his job is to help the MVM employee contact his or her family as quickly as possible. The situation can become tricky, he added, when people in the United States become so concerned about the safety of their loved one that they insist he or she return home. The company can get caught in the middle.
"What I don't want to do is create a situation where a husband and a wife, father and a son are upset at each other because of something we said or did," Rubin said. In order to prevent MVM employees from getting burned out in Iraq, the company usually puts them on 90-day rotations so that they get a chance to rest and visit their families.
Anteon International Corp. has about 200 employees overseas, including a handful in Iraq who were fully briefed on the risks they face, said Pat Dawson, senior vice president of administration for the Fairfax government contractor. The company also has set procedures its employees are to follow if it becomes necessary to evacuate the country.
Aside from providing security for employees, the biggest logistical challenge is often communication, executives said. Anteon's employees rely heavily on the Internet when it is available, but also are equipped with cell phones and satellite phones because managers want to be able to keep close tabs on them.
The company's human resources staff also is responsible for making sure Anteon complies with changing corporate and income tax laws that apply in Iraq. And like all companies working on reconstruction, it had to devise a plan to provide medical and dental care for employees stationed there. Military officials say the government cannot be expected to handle such details for the contractors it hires.
But private contractors have increasingly become targets of violence in Iraq, so Dawson and his counterparts say keeping their employees safe is still the main priority.
"When something happens,'' he said, "you start to go 'Hmm, let's pull out our plan and make sure we have all our bases covered.' That kind of thing keeps you on your toes."
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every other Thursday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.