WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Blackwater and contract oversight

I recently received an e-mail from a friend who is a freelance editor at a major daily newspaper. She wanted to relate a conversation that occurred at her office.

One of the editorial writers at this paper was blasting Blackwater and its actions in Iraq.

While not cutting any slack for Blackwater, my friend made this point:

"I think it's disingenuous for us to complain about what these guys did and not take our fair share of the blame," she said. "Everybody was applauding when we were reinventing government and downsizing all those 'government shoppers,' which incidentally included killing funding for the acquisition personnel to monitor the execution of contracts, such as, oh-let-me-think, someone to be on-site with these Blackwater guys as they fulfill their contract."

It's a great point - the allegations against Blackwater need to be investigated. Reforms likely will be passed. But the money spent to clean up the mess will surely far exceed the cost of hiring procurement managers to more proactively monitor contractors. It goes back to what Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Oct 09, 2007 at 9:54 AM

Reader Comments

Mon, Oct 15, 2007 Nick Wakeman VA

That's a great observation. I hadn't thought of it from that angle. You raise a deep philosophical/political issue. The lines have become very blurry on this one. Should we have civilian soldiers? Lots of food for thought here.Thanks.

Thu, Oct 11, 2007 Justin Porto VA

Rick, I believe the real issue with Blackwater was not so much government oversight of their contract, but hierarchical lines of accountability not being clearly established. I speak from experience on both sides of the fence. I was a "professional shopper" for 17 years of my military career, as an Army Acquisition Corps Officer in the DC area, and now I am a defense contractor in Iraq (not with Blackwater) but I am able to observe Blackwater personnel at work daily. The issue, as I see it, is in the unclear command chain of who Blackwater answers to. They are not in the military chain, so they are not responsive to the military Uniform Code of Military Justice. Yet they are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law, as a foreign entity operating under a contract with Department of State.The whole military-civilian wartime structure is what is called into question in Iraq, as acquisition /contract oversight could have at best only ensured a smoother and quicker post analysis of the incident.As long as there are civilian soldiers operating in a war zone not subject to combat rules of the military, these incidents, unfortunately, will continue to occur.Justin Porto

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