Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a troubling report on the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) hiring of private contractors to assist in its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It really illustrates how little we know about government contracting and why the lack of transparency is a problem.
Imagine this. DoD doesn’t even know how many private contractors it has on the payroll. AP reports that a senior defense official, in congressional testimony last month, estimated that there are about the same number of private contractors in each of the two war zones as there are American troops, 163,000 in Iraq and 36,500 in Afghanistan. But no one apparently knows for sure. The GAO found that private contractors outnumber DoD employees in some offices, and handle sensitive jobs like writing contracts and awarding fees.
Private contractors are free of ethics regulations that government employees are required to adhere to, setting up situations where corruption can easily flourish and likely never be discovered. Contractors are prohibited from accepting bribes or kickbacks (I suppose that’s something) and the companies hired by DoD are required to have ethic codes. But there are no safeguards against conflicts of interests. And with so many individuals handling so much money with precious little oversight…Well, you get the picture.
GAO, Congress’ watchdog, recommends that DoD require that private contractors it hires be forced to identify conflicts of interest and work to prevent them. That’s a start.