Commentary Magazine


Topic: contractor

Stinting on Defense

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

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RE: JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

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Cuba Prisoner Release

Regarding Cuba’s announcement that it will release 52 political prisoners, the Washington Post editors explain:

[T]here should be no illusions that this gesture augurs fundamental political change on the island that the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, have ruled with an iron fist since 1959. The Castro regime has a long history of tactical human rights concessions — with the goal of buying time for the regime rather than reforming it. …

The 52 inmates represent fewer than one-third of Cuba’s 167 political prisoners, according to democracy advocate Freedom House. Among prisoners notably not mentioned for release on Wednesday was Alan Gross of Potomac, an Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December for the crime of distributing cellphones and laptops in Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. And the first five prisoners to be freed reportedly are going to be forced into exile as a condition of their release.

The editors implore Obama not to cough up any modifications in existing sanctions until there is evidence of fundamental political change in Cuba. But the danger is great that the overeager Obami will tout this as a grand success and evidence of the wisdom of their engagement approach and begin to throw goodies at the Castro brothers’ feet while downplaying Cuba’s ongoing human rights atrocities. Democracy promotion, defense of religious liberty, and human rights rank low on the list of Obama’s foreign policy priorities, so he is not inclined to scrutinize Cuba’s conduct on any of these fronts.

In sum, every prisoner freed from a gulag is reason to celebrate, but we should keep our eye on those who still rot in prisons, and on the entire population of Cuba and other thugocracies who live under the heel of despots.

Regarding Cuba’s announcement that it will release 52 political prisoners, the Washington Post editors explain:

[T]here should be no illusions that this gesture augurs fundamental political change on the island that the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, have ruled with an iron fist since 1959. The Castro regime has a long history of tactical human rights concessions — with the goal of buying time for the regime rather than reforming it. …

The 52 inmates represent fewer than one-third of Cuba’s 167 political prisoners, according to democracy advocate Freedom House. Among prisoners notably not mentioned for release on Wednesday was Alan Gross of Potomac, an Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December for the crime of distributing cellphones and laptops in Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. And the first five prisoners to be freed reportedly are going to be forced into exile as a condition of their release.

The editors implore Obama not to cough up any modifications in existing sanctions until there is evidence of fundamental political change in Cuba. But the danger is great that the overeager Obami will tout this as a grand success and evidence of the wisdom of their engagement approach and begin to throw goodies at the Castro brothers’ feet while downplaying Cuba’s ongoing human rights atrocities. Democracy promotion, defense of religious liberty, and human rights rank low on the list of Obama’s foreign policy priorities, so he is not inclined to scrutinize Cuba’s conduct on any of these fronts.

In sum, every prisoner freed from a gulag is reason to celebrate, but we should keep our eye on those who still rot in prisons, and on the entire population of Cuba and other thugocracies who live under the heel of despots.

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Zero Military Contractors = 100,000 More Troops

The New York Times today continues a long tradition of moral preening in its editorials without spelling out the practical consequences of the actions it advocates. I refer to the editorial calling on President Obama “to get rid of the thousands of private gunmen still deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” It concludes: “There are many reasons to oppose the privatization of war. Reliance on contractors allows the government to work under the radar of public scrutiny. And freewheeling contractors can be at cross purposes with the armed forces.”

I join with the Times editors in bemoaning contractor abuses and calling for more accountability — a point I laid out at greater length in this American Interest article. But I do not believe we can simply dispense with all contractors, or even all armed contractors, unless we are willing to radically increase the size of the U.S. armed forces or radically decrease the number of missions they are told to carry out.

Today the U.S. armed forces have 1.4 million active-duty personnel. In 1991, at the end of the Cold War, the figure was more than 1.9 million. The rise in the use of contractors is a direct result of the post–Cold War downsizing that was undertaken by Bush the Senior and Clinton and that has not been truly undone by either Bush the Junior or Obama. If we want to use fewer contractors, then we need more soldiers — a lot more soldiers. But that costs a lot of money, and at a time when Obama is holding the line on defense spending (seemingly the only department of government being fiscally constrained), it seems highly unlikely that he will cough up the extra billions necessary to enlarge our armed forces.

Failing that, we have to rely on contractors to carry out missions, especially for the State Department, the CIA, AID, and other civilian agencies that have few in-house security personnel. In Afghanistan and Iraq, there are roughly as many contractors as there are soldiers. Since we will soon have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, if we were to dispense with contractors, we would need an additional 100,000 troops — a figure that cannot possibly be raised from our current force strength. Even if we kept all the contractors who cook food, clean bases, service aircraft, and undertake myriad other functions while only getting rid of armed security guards, we would still have to see a major increase in force strength — otherwise those tasks will suck up troops that are badly needed to perform combat functions.

In other words carrying out the current mission in Afghanistan is impossible without substantial reliance on contractors. So perhaps we shouldn’t be there at all? Some might say so, but not the Times editorial board, which has endorsed the strategy laid out in President Obama’s West Point address. Perhaps in a future editorial, the editorial writers can explain how we can reverse President Bush’s mistaken “strategy of fighting on the cheap” without employing a lot of contractors.

The New York Times today continues a long tradition of moral preening in its editorials without spelling out the practical consequences of the actions it advocates. I refer to the editorial calling on President Obama “to get rid of the thousands of private gunmen still deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” It concludes: “There are many reasons to oppose the privatization of war. Reliance on contractors allows the government to work under the radar of public scrutiny. And freewheeling contractors can be at cross purposes with the armed forces.”

I join with the Times editors in bemoaning contractor abuses and calling for more accountability — a point I laid out at greater length in this American Interest article. But I do not believe we can simply dispense with all contractors, or even all armed contractors, unless we are willing to radically increase the size of the U.S. armed forces or radically decrease the number of missions they are told to carry out.

Today the U.S. armed forces have 1.4 million active-duty personnel. In 1991, at the end of the Cold War, the figure was more than 1.9 million. The rise in the use of contractors is a direct result of the post–Cold War downsizing that was undertaken by Bush the Senior and Clinton and that has not been truly undone by either Bush the Junior or Obama. If we want to use fewer contractors, then we need more soldiers — a lot more soldiers. But that costs a lot of money, and at a time when Obama is holding the line on defense spending (seemingly the only department of government being fiscally constrained), it seems highly unlikely that he will cough up the extra billions necessary to enlarge our armed forces.

Failing that, we have to rely on contractors to carry out missions, especially for the State Department, the CIA, AID, and other civilian agencies that have few in-house security personnel. In Afghanistan and Iraq, there are roughly as many contractors as there are soldiers. Since we will soon have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, if we were to dispense with contractors, we would need an additional 100,000 troops — a figure that cannot possibly be raised from our current force strength. Even if we kept all the contractors who cook food, clean bases, service aircraft, and undertake myriad other functions while only getting rid of armed security guards, we would still have to see a major increase in force strength — otherwise those tasks will suck up troops that are badly needed to perform combat functions.

In other words carrying out the current mission in Afghanistan is impossible without substantial reliance on contractors. So perhaps we shouldn’t be there at all? Some might say so, but not the Times editorial board, which has endorsed the strategy laid out in President Obama’s West Point address. Perhaps in a future editorial, the editorial writers can explain how we can reverse President Bush’s mistaken “strategy of fighting on the cheap” without employing a lot of contractors.

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Overseeing Contractors

It’s good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have agreed that the armed forces will supervise all security contractors operating in Iraq, including those like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp that guard State Department officials. This is a welcome step toward achieving greater unity of command and making contractors more useful in aiding the overall coalition effort to stabilize Iraq.

Unfortunately, as this New York Times article points out,

the Defense Department has had its own difficulties controlling its nearly 130,000 contractors, who handle a variety of jobs including interrogations of prisoners and transportation of fuel and ammunition. Auditors have uncovered numerous instances of cost overruns, sloppy work, theft, and corruption in the tens of billions of dollars in logistics and reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

The core problem was laid out in July in this Washington Post article:

The Defense Department’s civilian acquisition workforce has shrunk by about 40 percent since the early 1990s and now has about 270,000 employees, according to Pentagon statistics and Government Accountability Office reports. Yet defense spending on service contracts increased 78 percent, to $151 billion, from 1996 to 2006, the reports said.

There are 7.5 million federal contractors, 1.5 million more than in 2002, without a corresponding increase in government officials to oversee them, said Paul C. Light, a public service professor at New York University.

There is nothing wrong with contracting per se, but there needs to be appropriate oversight, which, as these statistics suggest, has been lacking. The problems are compounded in Iraq, where it’s much harder for federal employees to get around, and which therefore gives contractors much greater leeway.

If the Defense Department is serious about overseeing Blackwater and other contractors, it will have to devote serious resources to the effort. As suggested by veteran contractor Malcolm Nance, the military may even have to set up a new Force Protection Command. While the Gates-Rice agreement is a step forward, the real test will be in implementation.

It’s good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have agreed that the armed forces will supervise all security contractors operating in Iraq, including those like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp that guard State Department officials. This is a welcome step toward achieving greater unity of command and making contractors more useful in aiding the overall coalition effort to stabilize Iraq.

Unfortunately, as this New York Times article points out,

the Defense Department has had its own difficulties controlling its nearly 130,000 contractors, who handle a variety of jobs including interrogations of prisoners and transportation of fuel and ammunition. Auditors have uncovered numerous instances of cost overruns, sloppy work, theft, and corruption in the tens of billions of dollars in logistics and reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

The core problem was laid out in July in this Washington Post article:

The Defense Department’s civilian acquisition workforce has shrunk by about 40 percent since the early 1990s and now has about 270,000 employees, according to Pentagon statistics and Government Accountability Office reports. Yet defense spending on service contracts increased 78 percent, to $151 billion, from 1996 to 2006, the reports said.

There are 7.5 million federal contractors, 1.5 million more than in 2002, without a corresponding increase in government officials to oversee them, said Paul C. Light, a public service professor at New York University.

There is nothing wrong with contracting per se, but there needs to be appropriate oversight, which, as these statistics suggest, has been lacking. The problems are compounded in Iraq, where it’s much harder for federal employees to get around, and which therefore gives contractors much greater leeway.

If the Defense Department is serious about overseeing Blackwater and other contractors, it will have to devote serious resources to the effort. As suggested by veteran contractor Malcolm Nance, the military may even have to set up a new Force Protection Command. While the Gates-Rice agreement is a step forward, the real test will be in implementation.

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Japan Leaves the War on Terror

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

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