The Trump administration has reduced the usage of military contractors, a decline that may be a one-off aberration or may be the beginning of a trend.
The U.S. government currently employs about 42,000 translators, security personnel, administrators, and other private contractors overseas, a figure that has dropped about 10% since the last days of the Obama administration. Since 2015, the contractor population has varied by a thousand or more almost every census, so the decrease itself is not necessarily news. However, some feel that President Trump may have a different attitude towards contractors, and he may not see them as a substitute for regular servicemembers. For example, the President just dispatched 400 Marines and Rangers to Syria, an area in which former President Obama had been reluctant to commit regular ground forces.
These moves may have a philosophical as well as a political basis, as some civilian brass feels that overreliance on contractors undercuts the U.S. military mission. Others may share these sentiments. Following a recent inspection tour, House Armed Services Committee Chair Mac Thornberry (R-TX) expressed dismay that a unit’s helicopters had been sent to Afghanistan and would be serviced by contractors in order to keep troop levels down. Rep.Thornberry decried such practices, and insisted that “Getting rid of that stuff will make whatever effort you undertake against ISIS much more effective.” Military commanders may feel the same way, as contractors arguably reduce the amount of control these leaders have over troop formations in the field.
Contractors in Afghanistan outnumber regular servicemembers by almost three to one (25,000 to 8,500); the other contractors are in Iraq (3,800) or in undisclosed other locations (13,500).
Overseas Contractor Roles
Many people equate contractors with paramilitary operatives. These types of contractors are relative newcomers, having been banned until an obscure footnote appeared in U.S. ex rel Weinberger v. Equifax. As it discussed a citizen’s private right of action to obtain information about contractors, the court noted that the Anti-Pinkerton Act had historically been used to bar any government employment of a paramilitary organization, but “our reading of the statute and its legislative history leads us to a different conclusion.”
A few years later, a government agency expressly allowed what are today known as security contractors. These individuals essentially perform guard duty, thus freeing up servicemembers for offensive operations.
Logistical contractors are those who serve in support positions. These individuals could be anyone from mechanics and truck drivers to construction workers and kitchen assistants. The military has traditionally outsourced these roles for generations, going back as far as the War Between the States. Demand for these contractors goes up as combat troop deployment increases. The so-called tooth to tail ratio (the number of logistical troops vs. combat troops) varies widely, but is generally somewhere around 5:1.
The Global War on Terror and the rise of cyber-warfare have spawned another class of contractor. Specialized contractors are usually interpreters, computer science/communication professionals, and other niche operators that the DoD cannot or will not train on its own.
Thousands of jobs are available in all three categories, and many people are willing to risk the considerable danger and forgo long-term job security in exchange for high pay, a chance to be immersed in another culture, and the opportunity to contribute something to a greater good.
The Defense Base Act helps mitigate part of that pro/con formula because it provides insurance benefits that cover economic losses in the event of an overseas injury to a government contractor, regardless of that individual’s specific job duties.
Since the contractor’s salary is often the primary or only source of family income, DBA insurance pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the disability. The AWW includes:
- Regular compensation,
- Performance bonuses,
- Per diem, and
- Other noncash compensation, such as housing allowance.
If the victim sustains a scheduled injury, like the loss of a limb, or is otherwise permanently disabled, the DBA usually allows for a lump sum payment.
Injured contractors are also entitled to comprehensive medical care, which is basically designed to take the place of the free medical care available to servicemembers through the Veterans Administration. The DBA pays all medical bills and gives victims the right to choose their own doctors. Since most of these victims receive emergency care overseas and then go to a stateside facility for further care and physical rehabilitation, the DBA also lets victims change physicians at any time, in most cases.
To learn more about procedure under the Defense Base Act, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel.