DOD IG Finds Private Security Contractors Performing Inherently Governmental Tasks

A U.S. Soldier Meets with Private Security Contractors

Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist and contributor to The Nation, blogged this morning about a discovery he made in a recent Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General's (IG) report. The DOD IG found, in what Scahill mockingly referred to as "a not shocking revelation," that "private contractors working for U.S. Special Forces have been allowed to 'perform inherently governmental functions.'"

Scahill quotes directly from page 20 of the report:

Specifically, management and contracting personnel allowed contractors to administer task orders, determine what supplies or services the Government required, and approve contractual documents. The contractors performing inherently governmental functions did not identify themselves as contractors. For example, in 3 of 46 task orders, valued at approximately $18 million, contractors working for the Special Operations Forces Support Activity signed contractual documents as a Special Operations Forces Support Activity representative. In addition, contracting personnel took direction and implemented contract changes from contractors working for their customers. These conditions occurred because the Special Operations Forces Support Activity lacked internal controls and standard operating procedures on the performance of inherently governmental functions. As a result, Special Operations Forces Support Activity may not have correctly administered and protected the best interests of the Government for approximately $82 million in task orders issued under the Special Operations Forces Support Activity contracts.

Quickly changing, dangerous combat environments that provide little supervision – which U.S. Special Forces normally operate within – create the perfect setting for private security contractors to perform inherently governmental functions. Unfortunately, as Scahill notes, this happens all too often during both regular and special combat operations.

That is exactly why OMB Watch recently collaborated with CREDO Action to spur public participation in the comment process of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) proposed reform of inherently governmental guidelines.

It isn't enough to simply have the government say they will provide better oversight of contractors in sensitive environments, like war zones. Any tasks that put contractors in a position to execute inherently governmental functions, such as armed security, prison operations, interrogation functions, or, as in the case above, special operations support, which allowed contractors to oversee other contractors and administer task orders, should be explicitly excluded from outsourcing.

Image by Flickr user isafmedia used under a Creative Commons license.

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