Two nights ago, Jon Stewart aired an interview with Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who was promoting his book Civilian Warriors. Take a moment to watch the interview. It’s pretty interesting–and entertaining. Why is this applicable to Navigable Waters? Because many of Blackwater’s employees qualify as Defense Base Act (“DBA”) contractors.
Jon Stewart’s interview touches on a number of topics that are often debated in the DBA community. First, in Part 1 he asks whether Blackwater contractors were mercenaries. Mr. Prince disputed the label, but there is no disputing that Mr. Stewart’s question is legitimate. DBA personal security contractors are paid sums that far exceed the pay earned by soldiers to work in the same environment and face the same threats. But is a contractor’s service the same as a soldier’s service? Should contractors who earn $150,000 to $200,000 be likened to soldiers, who perform the same tasks in the same war zones for a fraction of the income? Towards the end of Part 3, Mr. Prince contends that a contractor’s work is, indeed, service to the United States.
At the end of Part 1, another issue arises: how cheap is the use of contractors as compared to soldiers? Mr. Prince contends that, in the long run, the use of contractors is less than the use of soldiers. The Congressional Research Service prepared a report about this issue recently: Department of Defense’s Use of Contractors to Support Military Operations: Background, Analysis, and Issues for Congress. Although Mr. Stewart disputed the cost-efficiency of contractor use, the Congressional Research Service report supports Mr. Prince’s contentions. The report reveals that “[b]ecause contractors can be hired when a particular need arises and released when their services are no longer needed, contractors can be less expensive in the long run than maintaining a permanent in-house capability.”
In Part 2, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Prince discuss another issue with the use of contractors: namely, the short-term employment of contractors, or as Mr. Stewart premised the issue: “…you’re in there, you work for a couple years, and then you move on.” This premise is the same used in many Defense Base Act defenses with average weekly wage issues. Presently, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, as extended by the DBA, is set up to imagine a lifelong loss of wage earning capacity that encompasses heightened overseas, war zone earnings, as if those earnings could have been earned for the remainder of the injured worker’s life. But is that realistic when the contractor “work[s] for a couple years, and then the [contractor] moves on,” or when a contractor can be “released when their services are no longer needed”?
Whatever your answers to the questions posed in this blog post, everyone should agree that these are legitimate questions for our industry. If the Congressional Research Service report is correct, and the use of contractors is now an integral and necessary part of Department of Defense operations that will continue into the future, these questions may need to be answered sooner rather than later.
Erik Prince Extended Interview Part 1:
Erik Prince Extended Interview Part 2:
Erik Prince Extended Interview Part 3:
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)