The deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians by guards working for Blackwater USA in Baghdad on Sept. 16 should raise many questions about the role of private contractors in U.S. national security. So, too, should the Bush administration’s opposition to a House bill that seeks to place all private contractors in Iraq and other combat zones under the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
The Defense Department’s use of a significant number of private contractors for jobs normally done by military personnel started when Washington ended the draft, in 1973. Since the Pentagon no longer relied on the hidden tax of conscription, volunteers had to be paid a reasonable wage. To keep the number of military people small — and hold down personnel costs — the Pentagon began contracting out support activities like preparing food for the troops (soldiers call these duties K.P. or kitchen police) and routine maintenance. This trend was accelerated by the assumption of many federal, state and local officials that the private sector was, by definition, more efficient than the government. So government agencies began contracting out as many functions as possible.
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