"I wanted to look at how this phenomenon of military outsourcing and privatization is happening, in contexts that are more perhaps long-range, perhaps less on the front pages and sensational. It may serve as a kind of window to what we can expect if this trend continues in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."
Assistant professor of sociology and anthropology
Outsourcing government jobs is a common and growing trend. When the jobs being privatized are military operations, from guarding bases to providing targets for bombing raids, some sticky questions emerge.
Kate McCoy, assistant professor of sociology, studied the implications of military outsourcing in Colombia, a country she had focused on in her previous work for a human rights organization. Her experience there was one reason she chose that country for her studies; Colombia's experience with outsourced U.S. military operations was another.
"I wanted to look at how this phenomenon of military outsourcing and privatization is happening, in contexts that are more perhaps long-range, perhaps less on the front pages and sensational," she says. "It may serve as a kind of window to what we can expect if this trend continues in places like Iraq and Afghanistan."
After conducting extensive interviews in Colombia and the United States, McCoy discovered cooperative ventures. "I was surprised by the extent to which contractors and military personnel are working side-by-side in the same buildings," she says. "To that extent, it seemed the relationships were working pretty well and smoothly."
On the other hand, she also found that while the military officials directly involved in the operation seemed to be well informed, others were not. "The people who were left out of the loop were everyone else outside that immediate institutional context," she says. "When you make that shift, there is much less of a role for legislative oversight. I would try to interview members of Congress here (in the United States) or members of the congress in Colombia, and people would end up asking me questions, because they had no information."
The lack of information fosters a climate of minimal oversight and accountability, McCoy says. Corporations are starting to talk about developing codes of conduct, but thus far, the discussion is about voluntary standards with no enforcement. Even as talks at upper levels progress, these discussions do not necessarily change the actions of subcontractors several layers down, McCoy says. "When you have a high turnover of a global population of people who are engaged in really dangerous work, the risks are very high and accountability is very low."
Posted Sept. 27, 2010