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Private security contractors vs military in Iraq: GAO studies the comparative cost

The use of Blackwater and other private security contractors in Iraq and other war zones has been controversial for years, but what has usually been left out of the debate is the “comparative cost of using civilian employees or military members versus the cost of using contractors, particularly private security contractors,” during operations such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, as a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study examining just that narrow issue put it.

GAO examined four task orders of the Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) II contract mechanism and one contract (for Baghdad embassy security). Together they “covered the primary security services provided in Iraq for the State Department,” according to the study.

GAO’s study, which was conducted from October 2008 through October 2009, found that “for three of the task orders and the contract, the cost of using State Department employees would be greater than using contractors.” In other words, just one task order of the five contracts studied would have been cheaper with federal employees than with private contractors. But even that single task order would have become more expensive employing federal employees, if necessary additional hiring and training costs were included, GAO noted.

GAO found, for example, that “using State Department employees to provide static security for the embassy in Baghdad” for one year would have cost approximately $858 million, “compared to the approximately $78 million charged by the contractor for the same time period.”

And GAO’s comparison of the task order that provided personal security for State Department employees while in the Baghdad region also found that private contractor services were cheaper, but only because State “does not currently have a sufficient number of trained personnel to provide security in Iraq.”

While the contractor charged approximately $380 million for one year, and State’s cost would have been about $240 million, according to GAO, the added cost of recruiting and training enough additional personnel would have increased the State Department’s total for the services to more than $400 million.

Because the Department of Defense was unable to provide GAO with some of the basic information needed to perform a cost comparison (e.g., DoD “could not provide information regarding the number and rank of military personnel that would be needed to meet contract requirements” and “could not provide information on the cost to train personnel to perform the security functions”), GAO focused its study on the State Department, comparing its use of private security contractors to the cost of using State Department employees to perform the same functions.


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