Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, September 17, 2007

  US military is outsourcing pell mell in Iraq

In today's Washington Post, Walter Pincus calls attention to a very interesting document. It suggests that the rosy scenario of "progress" in Iraq, as painted last week by George Bush and his favorite general, David Petraeus, might actually have been a tad overdrawn. I wonder as well whether this document is related to another odd thing I was puzzling over last week—the outsourcing of the oversight conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

Pincus reports:

...10 days ago, [Petraeus'] commanders in Baghdad began advertising for private contractors to work in combat-supply warehouses on U.S. bases throughout Iraq because half the soldiers who had been working in the warehouses were needed for patrols, combat and protection of U.S. forces.

"With the increased insurgent activity, unit supply personnel must continue to pull force protection along with convoy escort and patrol duties," according to a statement of work that accompanied the Sept. 7 request for bidders from Multi-National Force-Iraq.

All of the small logistics bases, called Supply Support Activities, or SSAs, are "currently using about 50% of their assigned (currently less than 100% strength) military personnel for other required duties (force protection, patrols, escort duties, etc. along with performing 24 hour combat operations)," the statement says.

As Pincus suggests, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the military is so desperate to hold the line in Iraq that it needs to put out on the streets nearly every soldier and marine who can fire a rifle. Support roles are being filled increasingly with civilian contractors. That's a longstanding trend, of course. But this memo implies that the current ad hoc measures weren't anticipated and had to be implemented suddenly. Besides, stripping the warehouses of trained personnel has a whiff of desperation about it.

The proposal, which is for six months and has a six-month extension option, calls for some personnel to be familiar and experienced with "hazardous/radioactive material handling." At the same time, it states, "Contractor personnel are not required to have a security clearance to perform duties in the SSA." A comment on the Web site version of the proposal adds, "Ensure this is correct."

Three things really stand out. First, the Army began advertising the contract even before it had ascertained truly basic information about the requirements. Second, putting contractors without any sort of security clearances in charge of critical nodes in the system of military resupply is frankly pretty shockingly lax...even for the Bush government. And third, the Army doesn't have any clear idea how long this situation will continue, but suspects that it will be extended beyond 6 months and may have to be expanded to encompass 100% of the warehousing activities.

Although the initial request is for 101 individuals qualified in warehouse operations, "additional manning may be required and the contractor should anticipate possible increases," according to the proposal. Some locations may end up being "completely manned by contract personnel," the statement says.

I smell a hint of desperation in this contract. So much for the rose-lined garden path General Petraeus asked us to try very, very hard to believe in.

I wonder if this could be related to another extremely curious instance of outsourcing that came to light last week? The Army has decided to outsource much of the work of investigating the reconstruction of Iraq, which until now has been done by personnel working under the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

The Army Contracting Agency announced the other day that it is asking for private companies -- small businesses only -- "to procure all personnel, equipment, tools, materials, supervision, and other items and non-personal services necessary to perform data collection, analysis, design, formation and other project management support to ensure publication of the quarterly report."

The Bush administration has tried and failed to close down SIGIR in the past. It could be that the outsourcing of SIGIR's work is a round-about way to undermine the Special IG. But it might also be the case that SIGIR personnel working in Iraq were desperately needed for other work. It's not just the military, but also State Dept. and other civilian agencies in Iraq, that cannot fill critical positions.

Just a theory. In any event, we're seeing some rather peculiar hand-to-mouth solutions for some dimly understood and unexplained problems in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the summer doldrums in the Iraq war are nearly over. Insurgents have just declared a new Ramadan offensive. Don't hold your breath waiting for Petraeus to amend his congressional testimony.

crossposted from

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