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The Pentagon faces continuing problems ¡X including problems identified in a similar 2003 report ¡X overseeing and managing the thousands of civilian contractors supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new report from the Government Accountability Office has found.

The GAO report, dated Dec. 18, faulted the military for:

ƒÞHaving ¡§limited visibility¡¨ over contractor operations because there is no central agency or office tracking contractor numbers. ¡§For example,¡¨ the report reads, ¡§when Multi-National Force-Iraq began to develop a base consolidation plan, officials were unable to determine how many contractors were deployed to bases in Iraq.¡¨

ƒÞLack of contract oversight, preventing the Pentagon from getting ¡§assurance that contractors are meeting contract requirements efficiently and effectively at each location where work is being performed.¡¨

ƒÞLack of training for servicemembers on how to work with, and take advantage of, services contractors can provide. ¡§The lack of training hinders the ability of military commanders to adequately plan for the use of contractor support and inhibits the ability of contract oversight personnel to manage and oversee contracts.¡¨

The report comes a few weeks after a military ¡§census¡¨ in Iraq put the number of private government contractors now in Iraq at 100,000 people. That figure includes Americans, Iraqis and so-called ¡§third country nationals¡¨ who work as anything from security personnel and dining hall staffers to interpreters for American military forces. Some 600 contractors have been killed in Iraq.

According to the GAO, an estimated 9,200 contractors supported the 1991 Gulf War.

In the new report, GAO researchers were told by military field commanders that the problems include delays in getting spare parts and maintenance to soldiers in the field. Many of the high-tech tools used on the battlefield are serviced by civilian technicians.

The problems also include millions of dollars in waste.

For example, the report found, the Army estimates that up to $43 million each year is lost due to contractors eating free meals while also receiving a per diem for food.

The security situation compounds the problem. A contracting official responsible for overseeing 27 camps in Iraq was unable to visit all of the camps during his six months in Iraq. ¡§As a result,¡¨ the report reads, ¡§he could not effectively monitor the contractors¡¦ performance at those sites.¡¨

Combat commanders also complained of having to use soldiers as escorts for a larger number of contractors than expected.

As a result, the report found, commanders were ¡§surprised by the substantial portion of their personnel they were required to allocate as escorts; personnel they had expected to be available to perform other functions.¡¨

The GAO conducted a similar study in 2003 ¡X focusing on the Balkans ¡X after which the agency made similar recommendations for the Pentagon to improve the situation. But, according to the new report, the problems remain because the Pentagon ¡§has not allocated the organizational resources and accountability to focus on issues regarding contractor support to deployed forces.¡¨

The full report can be found at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07145.pdf.

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