Blackwater Mercs Make More than Petraeus
Walter Pincus argues that, in addition to being unaccountable, private military contractors are much more expensive than professional soldiers:
According to data provided to the House panel, the average per-day pay to personnel Blackwater hired was $600. According to the schedule of rates, supplies and services attached to the contract, Blackwater charged Regency $1,075 a day for senior managers, $945 a day for middle managers and $815 a day for operators.
An unmarried sergeant given Iraq pay and relief from U.S. taxes makes about $83 to $85 a day, given time in service. A married sergeant with children makes about double that, $170 a day.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad overseeing more than 160,000 U.S. troops, makes roughly $180,000 a year, or about $493 a day. That comes out to less than half the fee charged by Blackwater for its senior manager of a 34-man security team.
Now, that’s a pretty steep contrast! Your average Blackwater merc is making more than the commanding general. Ezra Klein calls this “astonishing,” which I suppose it is when looked at in that context. While it’s amusing to compare the average daily cost, though, it’s a rather silly way of weighing the economics.
Contractors are naturally more expensive in the short term than their government counterparts if all one weighs is their salaries. When I was doing management consulting at DISA, my company was hiring me out at a rate that exceeded my GS-15 boss’ pay. Unlike my civil service counterparts, though, the government had no long term obligation to me; the second they no longer needed my services, I was on my own. [UPDATE: I hasten to add, per commenter Scott_T, I wasn't personally drawing a larger salary than my boss. My company billed the government that amount because they had to pay my salary, cover my benefits, cover legitimate administrative overhead (including the cost of putting together annual proposals to get contracts renewed), and generate a profit.]
An American soldier has to be trained at taxpayer expense; the mercs bring their own training. (Mostly, it was also procured by the taxpayer, since Blackwater and company recruit mostly former military. But that’s a sunk cost.) Soldiers are paid whether they’re at war or not; the mercs get cut loose as soon as their contract expires. Soldiers get paid if they get sick or hurt on the job; Blackwater has to provide a sub. After putting in their time, soldiers get a pension; mercs get whatever they’ve negotiated from their companies.
Even on a pure salary basis, soldiers would command a hell of a lot more if the Army only recruited during wartime. (Indeed, as we’ve seen, we have to offer substantially more money to get people to sign up or re-enlist when there is a war going on.) People sign up, though, with the prospect of getting training, adventure, a sense of service, and whatever other benefits they hope to get from their time in the military and accept as part of that the risk of going to war. The mercs, by contrast, don’t have a job unless there’s a war to fight.
The Bush administration has discovered that it’s far easier to convince Congress to appropriate more funds than it is to convince the American people, much less the military, to send more troops. So we’re purchasing extra manpower instead. It’s a way of hiding the human cost of the war in the financial cost of the war. It’s a way, in other words, of lying, albeit in a uniquely expensive fashion.
Well . . . not exactly.
We ultimately agree that the benefits of hiring contract security guards are outweighed by the disadvantages, the cost-benefit analysis here is skewed by some rather silly math. Still, while “Clinton did it too!” is by now so shopworn as to be the object of parody, it’s nonetheless true that Bush hardly invented this.
The shift toward contract labor for the military is one that’s been going on as long as I can remember. Jobs that were done by soldiers twenty-five or thirty years ago are increasingly being done by civilians, whether civil servants or private contractors. This began with mundane post support duties like guarding the front gate, mowing the lawn, painting, operating dining facilities, and so forth. When I was in Desert Storm — almost 17 years ago now — all manner of service support functions were carried out by contracted labor, albeit mostly non-Americans.
What has changed, really, is the scope of the enterprise. Because the American footprint is so large and sustained, much more support is needed. Further, we have a large contingent of non-military government personnel that need protection that, for a variety of reasons, we’ve elected to farm out to private contractors rather than divert soldiers.