GAO: Defense contractors lack guidance

Contractors Provide Vital Services to Deployed Forces but are not Adequately Addressed in DOD plans

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The Defense Department lacks proper guidance for using and overseeing the contractors that support U.S. forces deployed overseas, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

The GAO report, released June 24, found that despite requirements established in DOD guidance documents, the department and military services "have not identified those contractors that provide mission-essential services and, where appropriate, developed backup plans to ensure that essential contractor-provided services will continue if the contractor for any reason becomes unavailable."

Military service officials told GAO investigators that contractors usually have fulfilled their contractual obligations and, if they were unable to do so, officials could replace them with other contractors or military personnel. "However, we found that this may not always be the case," according to the report.

GAO officials conducted their review from August 2002 through April 2003 and focused their efforts in the Balkans and Southwest Asia because contractors in those theaters provide a broad range of support activities, including communication services, interpreters, base operations services, weapons systems maintenance and intelligence analysis.

The GAO found that of the four services, only the Army has developed substantial guidance for dealing with contractors. The watchdog agency's report also said:

* Of 183 contractor employees planning to deploy with an Army division to Iraq, some did not have deployment clauses in their contracts, which can lead to increased contract costs as well as delays in getting contractors into the field.

* At sites visited in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Persian Gulf, general oversight of contractors appeared to be sufficient, but broader oversight issues existed, including inadequate training for staff responsible for overseeing contractors.

The GAO report includes numerous recommendations to the secretary of Defense to improve the oversight and management of contractors' supporting deployed forces:

* Conduct required reviews to identify mission-essential services provided by contractors and include them in planning.

* Develop and implement the use of standard language for contracts that support deployed forces.

* Develop comprehensive guidance and doctrine to help the military services manage contractors' supporting deployed forces.

* Develop training courses for commanding officers and other senior leaders who are deploying to locations with contractor support.

* Direct the DOD comptroller to implement the changes to the department's financial management regulations to specify that the biannual report include a synopsis of the services being provided and a list of contractor entitlements.

DOD officials received a draft copy of the report and agreed with most of the recommendations, but said the costs of changing the financial management regulations could outweigh the benefits. DOD officials also said the lack of that data had not jeopardized any recent DOD missions, and that less burdensome ways to ensure combatant commanders have all the necessary information for contractors supporting them should be explored before pursuing "a costly centralized database."

GAO officials disagreed with DOD claims of being overly burdened since DOD's comptroller already requires the military components to provide a biannual report

outlining any contracts and modifications for operations in a geographic area.

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