DOD: Contractors here to stay

Do not look for any dramatic change in the deployment of civilian contractors in war zones. Military and industry officials acknowledge that the work is dangerous but necessary — a point driven home by an attack in late March in which four employees of Blackwater Security Consulting were killed in Fallujah, Iraq.

The Defense Department's transformation initiative emphasizes having uniformed personnel fight battles while contractors provide support, including security services for government officials and communications services for troops on the battlefield.

"We have IT contractors here doing a stupendous job," said Army Col. Joseph Catudal, director of communications and information technology in the Chief of Communications Support Office. He oversees IT for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad.

More than 500 IT contractors support the coalition in Iraq. Most provide satellite communications. Others operate voice, video and data networks or maintain desktop and notebook computers. One vendor is working with the Army to incorporate handheld devices into

operations.

Army officials who manage IT programs and efforts said they desperately need support from contractors. "Contractors play a crucial role [because] the Army downsized during the 1990s," said Lee Harvey, deputy program executive officer in the Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS) at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Technical and Management Services Corp. (TAMSCO), in Calverton, Md., provides most of the IT contractors working with PEO-EIS. Company officials recognize the risk, but they know how to support the military in combat after years of experience, said spokeswoman Anne Rugg.

The 715-person firm, owned by Engineered Support Systems Inc. of St. Louis, provided communications support to the Army during military campaigns in Haiti and the Balkans in the 1990s. The wars produced the Multi-Media Communications System, a patented TAMSCO product that delivers voice, video and data services for military and civilian employees deployed overseas, Rugg said.

"It's no piece of cake," she said. "The Army is our customer. But there are business opportunities in Iraq."

TAMSCO installs and maintains voice, video and data systems for the CPA. It provides those services using commercial satellite systems, Rugg said.

The company's presence in Iraq has generated more business. Parsons Delaware Inc., part of Parsons Corp. and a U.S. contracting company working on electricity, public works and water projects there, hired TAMSCO for communications services, she said.

An IT industry official also said lucrative business opportunities exist in Iraq.

"If you are unemployed or underemployed in the United States, there are good work and pay opportunities in Iraq," said Joe Draham, vice president of government relations and congressional affairs at GTSI Corp. He worked for three months as a senior adviser to the CPA's chief operating officer.

Contractors including Blackwater, TAMSCO and Parsons post job ads in national newspapers and get many responses. Draham said he spoke to an individual who was hired to work in Iraq after responding to an advertisement.

"The person was very satisfied," Draham said. "But you'd have to look at the lives of the people to know why they took the jobs when you see the increased level of violence there."

Contractors inside the Green Zone, a reasonably protected area in Baghdad and the site of CPA headquarters, work in a more secure environment than those who will participate in reconstruction. Companies bidding work in Iraq add a 40 percent security fee to final offers to pay for employees' protection, he said.

Military and industry officials would not discuss IT salaries. But the company that provides security for L. Paul Bremer, U.S. administrator in Iraq who oversees the CPA, charged $500,000 for six months, according to an industry official familiar with the situation.

Iraq contracts offer good income with the potential for future revenue, said Bob Guerra of the Washington, D.C., IT consulting firm Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates Inc.

"If you are over there now getting up the infrastructure and building it, you are getting to know the environment, culture and the business," Guerra said. "Whatever the nation of Iraq turns out to be, you'll know people there. It's paid business

development."

The CPA employs the most IT contractors — about 170 — followed by the Army's PEO-EIS with 160 and the service's Program Executive Office-Command, Control, Communications-Tactical with 146.

The companies that provide the most IT contractors to the CPA include Raytheon Co., Science Applications International Corp. and TAMSCO, said Catudal, who served as director of operations in the Army's Office of the Chief Information Officr/G-6 before working for the CPA in Iraq. He declined to comment on the number of workers from each company because of security concerns.

Most IT contractors working for PEO-EIS in Iraq install, operate and maintain satellite communications terminals.

"There's nothing else to use," said Harvey, deputy to Kevin Carroll, who is head of PEO-EIS.

Coalition forces destroyed voice, video and data networks during last year's invasion of Iraq. Satellite communications contractors give troops optimal and continuous communications across the country's vast desert and rugged mountain terrain, he said.

The official who oversees 100 of PEO-EIS' 160 IT contractors in Iraq agreed with Harvey about the organization's dependence on contractors there.

"We just cannot do it without them," said Col. Lee Price, project manager for Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Besides Technical and Management Services, other companies providing significant numbers of IT workers to PEO-EIS include Computer Sciences Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Information Systems Support Inc. and Titan Corp., Price said. She also would not comment on the number of workers from each company because of security concerns.

Officials at PEO-C3T, the Army organization at Fort Monmouth that manages battlefield communications systems, also said they could not do their jobs in Iraq without IT contractors. "They all perform exceptionally well," said Lt. Col. Gale Harrington, product manager for common hardware systems.

Most install equipment and support hardware and software. Four contractors from General Dynamics Corp. maintain desktop, notebook and computer servers under the Common Hardware/Software II contract, Harrington said.

General Dynamics, Lockheed, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman Corp. provide the most IT contractors to PEO-C3T. "Contractor support keeps the tactical networks up and running through technical support, software troubleshooting and equipment repair," said PEO-C3T spokesman Tim Rider. "Some support technicians are embedded with combat units to provide on-site support thereby minimizing outages of key command and control systems."

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