How important are contractors to the Department of Defense? Very. Contractors are indispensable. According to the Congressional Research Service (“CRS”), “the military is unable to effectively execute many operations, particularly those that are large-scale and long-term in nature, without extensive operational contract support.”
The May 2013 CRS report entitled Department of Defense’s Use of Contractors to Support Military Operations: Background, Analysis, and Issues for Congress is an enlightening report. Although there are some portions of the report that I disagree with, the CRS did a good job explaining the importance of defense contractors:
DOD has long relied on contractors to support overseas military operations. Post-Cold War defense budget reductions resulted in significant cuts to military logistics and other support capabilities, requiring DOD to hire contractors to “fill the gap.” Recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and before that in the Balkans, have reflected this increased reliance on contractors supporting U.S. troops–both in terms of the number of contractors and the type of work being performed. According to DOD data, contractors, on average, represented just over half of the force in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
As of March 2013, there were approximately 108,000 DOD contractor personnel in Afghanistan representing 62% of the total force. Of this total, there were nearly 18,000 private security contractors, compared to 65,700 U.S. troops. Over the last six fiscal years, DOD obligations for contracts performed in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation were approximately $160 billion and exceeded total contract obligations of any other U.S. federal agency.
The CRS report even includes a nifty table demonstrating the contractor-to-soldier percentage in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
So, does the Defense Base Act apply to these contractors? In many cases, yes. Barring a waiver–like the waiver that existed for contractors in Japan after the 2011 tsunami–the Defense Base Act may very well apply.