Questioning Civilian Contractors
Columnist Gail Colllins asks “When did we decide that letting private contractors stand in for our military in sensitive and dangerous situations was a good plan?”:
When did we decide this was a good plan?
Let’s pretend for a minute that it is not stupendously irresponsible to let private contractors stand in for our military in wildly sensitive and dangerous situations abroad. Even if it was a terrific idea, we would still have to ask whether huge government agencies, which frequently have a difficult time finding cost-effective ways to order a hammer, know how to purchase services that actually work.
There’s no reason to believe the government has the capacity to determine how well all these private contractors are doing their jobs. And it’s doubtful that if the government did know, it could do much about it.
I’ll answer the question. We decided that using civilian contractors to perform functions that had previously been performed by soldiers in uniform was a good idea when we decided to reduce the size of our military without an accompanying commitment to reduce the number of things we’d be asking our military to do. In 1992 the end strengths of our military forces were:
In 2000 the end strengths of our military forces were:
Each president since then, William Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, has decided to undertake new commitments without increasing the size of the military to the point that the commitments could be sustained. Once they’d decided to do that, the decision to hire civilian contractors to make up the difference was a foregone conclusion.
I have no problem with reducing the size of the military. I think that doing so without re-aligning commitments is irresponsible. I also think that civilian contractors should be held to the same standards of conduct that our soldiers in uniform are.