Contingency Contracting throughout U.S. History

Contingency contracting has been an incremental part of U.S. military history since 1775. Prior to 1781, the U.S. military was procuring goods through a direct purchase method, which proved inefficient and wasteful. Then Congress appointed Robert Morris as Superintendent of Finance of the United States. Morris instituted Europe’s approach – use of private contractors. Business practices have evolved since that time, and the government-contractor relationship has continued to develop.

As illustrated in the data below, contractors have been instrumental in supporting the United States during conflicts, including combat missions, stability operations, peacekeeping missions, and humanitarian relief efforts.

Civilians Contracted to Support Military Operations

War/Conflict Contracted Personnel Military Ratio
Revolution 1,500 (Est) 9,000 1:6 (Est)
Mexican/American 6,000 (Est) 33,000 1:6 (Est)
Civil War 200,000 (Est) 1,000,000 1:5 (Est)
World War I 85,000 2,000,000 1:20
World War II 734,000 5,400,000 1:7
Korea 156,000 393,000 1:2.5
Vietnam 70,000 359,000 1:6
Persian Gulf War 5,200 541,000 1:100
Rwanda/Somalia/Haiti No Records Kept N/A N/A
Balkans 5,000-20,000 (Varied) 20,000 Up to 1.5:1
Iraq 95,461 95,900 1:1
Afghanistan 112,092 79,100 1.42:1

Evolving Participation of Contractors in the U.S. Military


Use of Contractors throughout U.S. History

Revolutionary War: Contractors were hired as wagon drivers, and suppliers of beef, clothing, weapons, and basic engineering services.

War of 1812: Private contractors provided food, clothing, shelter, and transportation to the American Army, but the Secretary of War centralized procurement within the Army itself by 1820.

Mexican-American War: Contractors were needed mainly to transport soldiers to Mexico.

American Civil War: Due to the rapid buildup, the Union Army relied on the public sector to provide construction, labor, and transportation services for front-line support.

World War I: At this time, the military was practicing a centralized procurement approach. If services were needed (primarily extra labor, transportation, and housekeeping), French and Belgian firms were available.

World War II: As with WWI, supplies were shipped from the United States to the intended international locations. However, this proved to be inefficient as the warfighters received goods and services later than needed. With the changing dynamic of war, two contracting concerns were realized: 1) increased dependence on technology to win the war meant an increased reliance on manufacturers to provide updated systems rapidly to the warfighters, and 2) contractors faced the same risks on the field – engagement with the enemy, capture by the enemy, and even death.

Korean War: Even though most contractors were Japanese or Korean firms, the military did not have adequate policies or personnel in place to manage the operations. The Korean War marked the first time that the U.S. launched an ambitious local procurement agenda to support a contingency operation.

Vietnam War: Since President Johnson did not mobilize the reserves, extra personnel were needed for construction, base operations, water and ground support, petroleum supply, and maintenance and technical support of high-technology systems.

Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield: Contractors heavily supplemented the military during this conflict due to the budget cliff at the time. The Army realized the value contingency contracting officers had to the operation and developed a designated billet to provide commanders continued support beyond their organic support capabilities.

Operation Restore Hope: Due to the nature of this conflict, there was no clear guidance on the timing or the funding associated with efforts in Somalia. The Services did not deploy with needed items and relied on contractors to assist, but if funding was not yet appropriated, contractors were ordered to stand down.

Operation Joint Endeavor/Joint Guard: This conflict experienced issues with the experience level of contingency contracting officers, currency and exchange rates, unauthorized commitments, templates of contracting forms, and competition between commands for scarce resources.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Due to the mission and involvement of the international community, contractors (U.S. citizens, third-country nationals, and local nationals) were utilized for this conflict more than any other in the history of the United States. They were critical in assisting the military with logistical services such as base support, interpreters, private security, parts and equipment distribution, and vehicle maintenance.




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