April 18, 2012

Manchin Grills Defense Department Officials on Overreliance on Private Contractors Overseas

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) questioned Department of Defense officials at a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing today about the military’s overdependence on overseas service and security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“I’m concerned that we are cutting 100,000 service members by 2017, but no one can tell me how many contractors we are cutting,” Senator Manchin said. “I can’t even get an accurate figure on how many we have.” 

Senator Manchin pointed out that the ratio of expensive overseas service and security contractors to uniformed personnel has exploded in the past several decades. During World War I, the United States had one contractor for every 24 soldiers. In WW II, there was one contractor for every seven soldiers. During the Vietnam War, there was one contractor for every five soldiers. In the Balkans, it was a one-to-one ratio. Between Iraq and Afghanistan today, there are more contractors than uniformed personnel on the ground. 

“I am told we have approximately 150,000 contractors compared to about 90,000 men and women in uniform,” Senator Manchin said. “It just makes common sense to me, as an American – and I think we all love our military and we are so appreciative of what they do – that given the choice between a soldier and an overpaid contractor performing the same mission, I would choose the soldier.” 

Senator Manchin also questioned military leadership about a recent Department of Defense report that faults a Kellogg Brown and Root contractor, known as KBR, for knowingly exposing West Virginia National Guardsmen to sodium dichromate in Iraq during the cleanup of the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. One issue raised in the report was an indemnity clause in the Department of Defense awarded contract that freed the contractor from all liability.

“The most troubling part of the contract is the ‘indemnity clause,’ which I could absolutely not believe that this government would enter into a $28 billion contract with an indemnity clause that lets the contractor totally off the hook – even if the contractor knowingly does something wrong, like expose soldiers to a known carcinogen,” Senator Manchin said. 

Senator Manchin questioned the officials about whether the United States has any contracts with similar indemnity clauses in Afghanistan. 


  • Senator Manchin has repeatedly questioned military leadership about the overdependence on overseas security and service contractors in our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Senator Manchin worked with his Democratic and Republican colleagues to include a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Department of Defense to report to the servicemembers, their families and the American people what happened in the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility. In October, that report was released.