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Now, I'm all in favor of John Edwards and the second-tier candidates taking on Hillary; the rule of three means that it'll end up helping Obama the most.

But words can't compare to action. Barack Obama got an amendment attached to the Senate Defense bill which requires oversight and accountability of military and security contractors like Blackwater.

Obama first introduced a bill to do this back in February. Unfortunately, it didn't get any traction until the recent revelations about Blackwater's despicable activities.

This allowed Obama to offer a somewhat pared-down version of his bill as an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill], where it was adopted unanimously

The amendment has two separate parts. The first part requires  the federal government to release reports on the names of the contractors performing work in Iraq, what they are being hired to do, the cost of the contrasts, and a way to determine how many people have been killed as a result of the contractor's activities.

a) Reports on Iraq and Afghanistan Contracts.--Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, and the Director of National Intelligence shall each submit to Congress a report that contains the information, current as of the date of the enactment of this Act, as follows:

   (1) The number of persons performing work in Iraq and Afghanistan under contracts (and subcontracts at any tier) entered into by departments and agencies of the United States Government, including the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of the Interior, and the United States Agency for International Development, respectively, and a brief description of the functions performed by these persons.

   (2) The companies awarded such contracts and subcontracts.

   (3) The total cost of such contracts.

   (4) A method for tracking the number of persons who have been killed or wounded in performing work under such contracts.

The second part requires the Department of Defense to create a strategy to make sure that governmental functions stop getting privatized, and just as importantly, to prevent contractors from ever having any authority over government employees.

 

 (c) Department of Defense Report on Strategy for and Appropriateness of Activities of Contractors Under Department of Defense Contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror.--Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report setting forth the strategy of the Department of Defense for the use of, and a description of the activities being carried out by, contractors and subcontractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Department missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror, including its strategy for ensuring that such contracts do not--

   (1) have private companies and their employees performing inherently governmental functions; or

   (2) place contractors in supervisory roles over United States Government personnel.

Senator Obama on why we needed the amendment:

Mr. President, the recent incident in which Blackwater USA reportedly killed at least 11 Iraqis and wounded several others has prompted a long overdue examination of the role that private security contractors are playing in Iraq. An article in today's Washington Post titled ``U.S. Pays Steep Price for Private Security in Iraq'' helps to highlight the exorbitant mark-up that private security contractors are reportedly charging the U.S. Government.

  Last week, the Senate accepted an amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill that I offered that will require Federal departments to report information to Congress on the total number of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, the companies awarded these contracts, and the cost of the contracts. The provisions of the amendment are drawn from the Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act, S. 674, that I introduced in February.

  The American people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent in Iraq and the role that security contractors are playing in that conflict. We need to make sure that security contractors in Iraq are subject to adequate and transparent oversight and that their actions do not have a negative impact on our efforts to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.

  I ask to have printed in the Record the text of the article from the Washington Post.

The Post Article

[From the Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2007]

  U.S. Pays Steep Price for Private Security in Iraq
(By Walter Pincus)

  It costs the U.S. government a lot more to hire contract employees as security guards in Iraq than to use American troops.

  It comes down to the simple business equation of every transaction requiring a profit.
...
  An unmarried sergeant given Iraq pay and relief from U.S. taxes makes about $83 to $85 a day, given time in service. A married sergeant with children makes about double that, $170 a day.

  Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad overseeing more than 160,000 U.S. troops, makes roughly $180,000 a year, or about $493 a day. That comes out to less than half the fee charged by Blackwater for its senior manager of a 34-man security team.

By the way, the House is voting today on a similar stand-alone bill authored by David Price.

They just a second ago passed a different accountability bill 404-11, so the outlook seems optimistic.

Update: The CRS summary of the original bill (which looks like it may well be acted upon).

Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act of 2007 - Requires reports to Congress by specified federal officials on information with respect to federal military and security contracts being performed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Requires a separate report from the Secretary of Defense on Department of Defense (DOD) strategy and activities with respect to contractors and subcontractors in support of DOD missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror.

Requires each contract, subcontract, or task order awarded or issued by a federal agency that includes private security functions (covered contract) to require the contractor to provide to the agency contracting officer specified information, including the number of persons to perform the security functions and the hiring and training process for such employees. Requires agency oversight in the performance of the covered contract.

Directs the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to issue rules of engagement regarding the circumstances under which force may be used by contractor personnel performing private security functions within the area covered by a contingency operation, and the types of force authorized. Provides for: (1) hiring, training, and equipment standards relating to private security contractors; and (2) coordination and communication between U.S. Armed Forces and contractor personnel.

Provides for the legal status of contractor personnel with respect to investigations and prosecution of abuses by private security contractors.

Requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for each theater of operations established in connection with a contingency operation in which contract personnel are carrying out work under a covered contract, to establish a Theater Investigative Unit to investigate allegations of contractor personnel criminal misconduct.

Update 3: Geekesque has provided more links to Obama's actions/words against Blackwater.

September 25 Letter to Bush

Obama told Bush in a Monday letter that he should pin down information immediately on offenses committed by contractors.

"It is our government’s obligation to ensure that security contractors in Iraq are subject to adequate and transparent oversight and that their actions do not have a negative impact on our military’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan," Obama wrote.

...
Obama told Bush he was "disturbed" by the Blackwater episode, which "raises larger questions about the role of private security contractors."

Obama's Senate website on the amendment's approval

ast night, the United States Senate accepted an amendment to the Defense Department Authorization bill introduced by U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) that will require federal departments to compile and report information to Congress on the role of private security contractors in Iraq.

"There are too many unanswered questions about the role of private security contractors in Iraq and it’s time for answers," Senator Obama said. "The American people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent in Iraq and the role that security contractors are playing. This legislation will start getting the information we need to make sure their operations are going forth in a way that doesn’t hinder our military’s efforts to bring this war to a responsible end. I reiterate my calls on President Bush to immediately begin bringing these answers to Congress."

Obama on Blackwater on September 23 in Creston, Iowa

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said Saturday during a question and answer period that he doesn't have "much patience" for private security firms like Blackwater USA "getting paid by U.S. Tax dollars."
...
The Democratic presidential candidate said companies like Blackwater can be "just as damaging to our foreign policy as anybody."

"The Iraqis look at these folks as if they're Americans," he said. "They don't make the distinction between...a private security firm [and]...the U.S. Military. It's all the same to them."

Video produced in March 2007 for the Nation by Obama campaign blogger Sam Graham-Felsen.

CPDem81's diary on the subject

Originally posted to DemocraticLuntz on Wed Oct 03, 2007 at 11:38 AM PDT.

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