DOD official orders head count of private security guards

John Young, acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has launched a comprehensive head count of private security contractors working for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a Sept. 28 memo, Young gave Defense Department officials until Nov. 1 to record personal, contract and detailed deployment information on all private security contractors and translators working in those two countries.

They must enter that information in a centralized database called the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker, which DOD’s Business Transformation Agency manages. Earlier this year, DOD officials designated SPOT as the central repository for tracking the whereabouts and overseas assignments of contractors working for the military in war zones.

Military commanders and government auditors have said a lack of data about the growing number of private security contractors working alongside U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan makes it difficult to provide adequate oversight of those individuals.

Young’s memo, obtained by Federal Computer Week, came only weeks after Iraqi officials alleged that employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA opened fire on civilians in Baghdad without provocation. The company denies any wrongdoing in the incident, in which 17 civilians died.

Although the Blackwater guards involved in the shooting were working for the State Department and not DOD, some officials are concerned that the incident could cast a bad light on the Pentagon’s security contracting practices.

“I don’t think the average American makes that distinction,” said one defense source, who asked not to be identified. Young’s effort to collect information about DOD’s security contractors is “a way for us to get our hands around the issue,” the source said.

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