Pentagon faulted for lax oversight of contractors

From Times Wire Services

The Pentagon is losing millions of dollars because it cannot adequately monitor the unprecedented number of contractors helping to run the nation's wars, says a congressional report released Tuesday.

Military commanders, for example, are often unsure how many contractors use their bases and require food, housing and protection, the report says. One Army official said the service estimated losing about $43 million a year on free meals provided to contractors who also received a food allowance.

The report was released on the same day that White House Budget Director Rob Portman said U.S. costs for the Iraq war would exceed an estimate of $110 billion this fiscal year, approaching the record reached in the previous fiscal year. That amounts to more than $2 billion a week.

Iraq war spending hit a record $120 billion in fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30. Some media reports have said the war costs for fiscal 2007 could be about $170 billion, but Portman declined to give a precise figure.

Besides the losses cited in the contractor investigation by the Government Accountability Office, the report found that the Defense Department's ineffective management of the civilian workers had hurt military operations and morale.

"With limited visibility over contractors, military commanders and other senior leaders cannot develop a complete picture of the extent to which they rely on contractors as an asset to support their operations," says the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

The report says about 60,000 contractors are supporting the Army in Southwest Asia, a region that includes Iraq. About 9,200 contractors were used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The military does not have enough personnel devoted to overseeing the contracts, the GAO says. In one case, a single person was assigned to monitor the compliance of a contract at 27 different installations across Iraq in a six-month tour.

The Pentagon said it agreed with the GAO's recommendations that the military start a database of contractors and set up a senior-level office dedicated to improving the management of contractors.

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