Contractors in Iraq

August 12, 2008

Contractors play a substantial role in supporting the United States current military, reconstruction, and diplomatic operations in Iraq, accounting for a significant portion of the manpower and spending for those activities.

CBO released a study today, conducted at the request of the Senate Committee on the Budget, on the use of contractors in the Iraq theater to support U.S. activities in Iraq. The webcast of the press briefing is available here.

CBO found:

  • From 2003 through 2007, and converting the funding into 2008 dollars, U.S. agencies awarded $85 billion in contracts for work to be principally performed in the Iraq theater, accounting for almost 20 percent of funding for operations in Iraq. Including funding for 2008 itself, the U.S. has likely awarded $100 billion or more for contractors in the Iraq theater.
  • More than 70 percent of those obligations were for contracts performed in Iraq itself. The Department of Defense awarded contracts totaling $76 billion, and the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State obligated roughly $5 billion and $4 billion, respectively, over the same period.
  • Contractors provide a wide range of products and services in theater. Most contract obligations were for logistics support, construction, petroleum products, or food.
  • Although personnel counts are rough approximations, CBO estimates that at least 190,000 contractor personnel, including subcontractors, work on U.S.-funded contracts in the Iraq theater. About 20 percent are U.S. citizens.
  • The United States has used contractors during previous military operations, although not to the current extent. According to rough historical data, the ratio of about one contractor employee for every member of the U.S. armed forces in the Iraq theater is at least 2.5 times higher than the ratio during any other major U.S. conflict, although it is roughly comparable with the ratio during operations in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Private security contractors have been a particular focus of attention. Our analysis shows:

  • Total spending by the U.S. government and other contractors for security provided by contractors in Iraq from 2003 through 2007 was between $6 billion and $10 billion.
  • About 10,000 employees of private security contractors work directly for the U.S. government. Another 15,000 to 20,000 work for the Iraqi government, other contractors, and other customers, bringing the total to approximately 25,000 to 30,000 employees of private security contractors operating in Iraq.
  • The costs of a private security contract are similar to those of a U.S. military unit performing similar functions. During peacetime, however, the private security contract would not have to be renewed, whereas the military unit would remain in the force structure.

Regarding the legal issues associated with contractor personnel, CBO finds that military commanders have less direct authority over the actions of contractor personnel than over their military or civilian government subordinates. In addition, the legal status of contractor personnel in Iraq is uncertain, particularly for those who are armed.

CBO's report was prepared by Daniel Frisk and R. Derek Trunkey of our National Security Division.