GAO: Pentagon Must Reexamine Its Reliance on Private Contractors

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The Department of Defense has come too rely too much on private contractors to fulfill core missions without adequate consideration of which functions are “inherently governmental,” Gene Dodaro, GAO’s acting comptroller, has told Congress. Testifying Wednesday before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, headed by Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, Dodaro reiterated a request from GAO–first made in 2006–that lawmakers compel the Pentagon to consider how it hires and deploys contractors. The amount of defense spending devoted to paying private companies to perform an wide array of tasks (support services, intelligence, translation, security, etc.) has doubled since 2003.

While we are all to eager to blame contractors for fraud and corruption, Dodaro emphasized that a large part of the problem stems from a shortage of Pentagon contract specialists and incompetence among those already on the summarized Dodaro’s complaints:

While services contracting doubled, the size of the Defense acquisition workforce grew by 1 percent. Often the staff lacks skills to monitor contracts, particularly staff deployed to the battlefield, Dodaro said.

For example, contracting officers have used contracts subject to cost overruns, such as time and materials contracts, when they couldn’t say why that type of contract was necessary, he said. In addition, contracting officers have failed to document actions to show the government got what it paid for, Dodaro said.

Also as a result of poor management, costs and schedule delays on weapons projects have grown. The average weapons system was 26 percent over budget in 2007, compared with 6 percent in 2000; and 21 months behind schedule in 2007, compared with 16 months in 2000, Dodaro said.

Defense needs to ensure it has staff with the technical skills to understand what they are buying, and it needs to establish intermediary performance goals to hold contractors accountable throughout a weapon system’s development, Dodaro said.

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