Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Congress Targets PSCs, Potentially Ruins Iraq Efforts

Congress may be on its way to hamstringing our efforts in Iraq, the Politico reports. A new bill shepherded through the Senate Armed Services Committee by Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI, pictured left) would could allow Congress to cut off existing contracts made by the executive and would also allow the government and private security contractors to be sued. And that, the Politico argues, could do serious damage to the government's attempts to stabilize the region.

"Interpreted broadly, the measure could slash the number of private security contractors now operating legally in Iraq.... Even if getting rid of the security contractors in Iraq would fix a problem of adequate oversight, it would widen personnel gaps at the State Department and the Pentagon. The agencies don't have enough personnel to take over the security for officials, installations and reconstruction zones that contractors currently provide.... In a recent Senate hearing, P. Jackson Bell, the Pentagon's deputy under secretary for logistics and materiel readiness [pictured right], said a broad policy against private security contractors could affect up to 9,000 individuals. Replacing that many contractors would require even more soldiers and Marines, due to a demanding rotation schedule."

Part of the problem with the new legislation is its use of some ambiguous terms, such as "inherently governmental function" and "highly hazardous." Would mundane missions such as guarding mail fall into this category?

A Pentagon official familiar with the issue reiterated these concerns about unclear terminology: "Contractors are not supposed to do things like combat," the official said. "So the question comes in, 'What is combat?' And there is no easy answer to that."

"Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council," which represents a number of government service contractors, including Blackwater, "said that the security industry is not averse to regulations but that the regulations need to be clear. For example, if Congress wants to prohibit contractors from firing the first shot, it should spell that out. Bogging down regulations with catchphrases can create more confusion, Chvotkin said."

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