Where are the contractors now?

DOD might have 100,000 contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, but nobody knows for sure

The Pentagon doesn’t know how many contractors work in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. By some estimates, as many as 100,000 contractor employees provide support services, including food preparation, security and logistics.

The Defense Department keeps tabs on about 60,000 contractors with its Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT), which it recently upgraded. Now officials want to know where the rest of the contractors are, and by the end of the year, they plan to use SPOT to register all contractors who work in the Central Command’s area of responsibility. 

DOD needs to know the whereabouts of all contractor employees in battle zones and the government contracts on which they are working, said Army Maj. Gen. Carlos Pair, acquisition executive at DOD’s Business Transformation Agency.

Because DOD lacks information about the number, location and types of contract workers on the ground, senior leaders and military commanders don’t know the extent to which they rely on those contractors to support military operations, according to a December 2006 Government Accountability Office report.

Pentagon officials started addressing the issue in January when they designated SPOT as the system of record for information about DOD contractors in battlefield zones. SPOT originated as an Army system, but Army officials transferred responsibility for it to DOD’s Business Transformation Agency late last year.

Ideally, DOD would enter personal information about contractors into SPOT before they leave the United States for an overseas assignment, Pair said. Contractors would then update the system by entering their locations as they move in battlefield zones. Although the system holds personal information on more than 60,000 contract workers, not all of those people have yet gone overseas, Pair said.

Last month, Pentagon officials upgraded SPOT to offer enhanced movement-tracking capabilities and enable contractors to log on to the system using a DOD Common Access Card, which authenticates the cardholder’s identity.

DOD officials say SPOT will support standard reporting procedures to ensure the accuracy, timeliness and validity of contractor information. They also expect the system to eliminate the need for manual data entry and the costs of reviewing data and correcting errors. Finally, they anticipate that SPOT will help them plan their support of U.S. warfighters more accurately.  

Shay Assad, director of Defense procurement and acquisition policy, issued a memo in March that contained language requiring the use of SPOT. Pair said DOD wants to have all contracts incorporate the new language by June 2008.

The memo is producing the desired results. “We’ve started to see this requirement pop up in our [members’] contracts,” said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council. However, he added, the council’s member companies have some privacy concerns about the information employees must provide for the SPOT database.

“We want to be sure there are appropriate security and access procedures in place for the individual records,” he said.

Chvotkin also said regulations should clearly state who pays for the time and effort it takes companies to enter and maintain the required employee information. When the Army ran SPOT, contractors with cost-reimbursable contracts could bill the government for such expenses, he said.

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