Congressional panel examines contractor drawdown in Iraq

Finds military guidance lacking

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post / March 30, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A congressional committee yesterday questioned one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense companies and military leaders about how they plan to reduce the nearly 100,000 contractor employees in Iraq, as the United States draws down its military forces there.

“Taxpayers need assurance that contractors don’t have unnecessary staff hanging around — accidentally or by design — without work, but still drawing pay,’’ the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan said in its prepared statement.

The Pentagon expects the number of contractor employees in Iraq — mostly foreign nationals and Iraqis — to have declined from 149,000 in January 2009 to no more than 75,000 by August 2010. KBR, of Houston, has the largest service contract, $38 billion, for logistic services including equipment maintenance, feeding troops, and other work.

A recent Pentagon inspector general report found that KBR contractors were billing the government for 12 hours in doing truck maintenance, but in reality were working an average of 1.3 hours — a waste of $21 million. The report also found that KBR could save $193 million if it drew down its workforce faster, according to an audit by the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

KBR defended its practices in written responses to the auditors, saying that under the contract, it is up to the US military to decide what work it wants done and set the staffing needs. It also said that it has put in place more cost-efficient methods for doing its work.

Officials on the wartime commission said they are concerned that the US military has “yet to make key decisions that will affect contractors’ draw down plans.’’

“The government is not giving contractors adequate guidance on events, dates, and requirements for them to trim or redeploy workforces appropriately,’’ the commissioners said in the prepared statement.

Lieutenant General James Pillsbury, deputy commanding general of the US Army Materiel Command, which is helping oversee the drawdown of the logistics operations in Iraq, said the “magnitude and scope of the Iraq drawdown is unprecedented.’’