The concept of a nation utilizing private military firms (PMFs) is nothing new. Mercenaries doing the job of a nation’s soldiers date to the years of Ancient Rome and Carthage. My initial impression of PMFs is that they are corrupt businesses that do the work the military does not want to dirty its own hands with for a massive price. The ever-expanding defense budget can lead to the conclusion that they have enough money and personnel to carry out all their responsibilities without the need for contractors. This, of course, is not the reality of how the Pentagon and the defense industry works.
A US government report from March 2010 sheds light on the upsides of using private security contractors. This report was written during a post-9/11 surge in the reliance on PMFs. Criticism was frequent that PMFs in Iraq and Afghanistan were damaging the US’s image and our finances because companies like Blackwater make billions off such missions. Eager to dispel such criticisms, the government claimed that the State Department alone saves roughly $900 million a year using PMFs to protect US diplomats in Iraq rather than hiring US government employees. This data comes from the non-partisan Government accountability office.
The massive savings when using PMFs are that there are no government benefits like pensions, vacation time, or overtime guaranteed. Frequently PMFs employ foreign nationals to carry out their missions at the request of the US government. Of the nearly 2000 contractors charged with guarding the US embassy in Bagdad in 2008, 89 percent were foreign nationals. If the State Department decided to hire the embassy’s security directly, the cost would increase significantly due to the desire not to employ third-country nationals or mercenaries. The Blackwater provided guards cost as much as $1,222 per day despite this.
One of the significant downsides of hiring PMFs is the lack of oversight by the Pentagon or Congress. Anytime taxpayer money is spent, in a perfect, the people would have a right to know that those making the decisions are accountable to their elected representatives. This demand is not met with PMFs by a long shot, but these companies are so embedded in the US military that reversing course now is not going to happen. The savings of using PMFs will always outweigh the lack of oversight.