Top Republican asks why more contractors haven't been used at border in place of troops

Top Republican asks why more contractors haven't been used at border in place of troops
© Greg Nash

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday questioned why the Pentagon does not use more contractors to aid in the U.S. military’s increasing role at the southern border.

“We face an unprecedented situation at the border. The Border Patrol is completely overwhelmed [and] reports this week are that military folks are going to be asked to do more tasks at the border than they have been doing before,” said Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall MORE (R-Texas).

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“Why can we not use contractors for these support activities that we are now asking the military to do? Any time any of us visit Afghanistan, other places around the world, a lot of the people doing the cooking, the cleaning, the driving, monitoring sensors, are often contractors,” Thornberry added during a committee hearing on security challenges in North and South America.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano replied that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have been using contractors. But he noted that there is “a practical limit” to their use “in terms of availability of contractors in the areas where they seek to have the work done, and the timelines associated with getting those contractors on task.”

Rapuano added that there are certain functions that only military personnel should perform, including monitoring sensors, barrier construction and hanging concertina wire, “for which we do have ready capabilities.”

The Pentagon announced Monday that it would send another 320 military personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border for roles that include “monitoring the welfare of individuals” in CBP custody. Military lawyers, cooks and drivers will be allowed to help with handling migrants entering the United States.

The newly approved roles change a 2006 policy that prohibited military personnel from coming into contact with migrants.

Thornberry on Wednesday expressed hope that as the Department of Defense (DOD) considers requests from DHS, “that you look at independently the availability of contractors to perform some of these functions, especially as the tasks asked of our military expand.”

“I know we can do it, the question is are U.S. military people the best entity to be deploying wire? I think that's maybe a better way forward than to continue to expand the job of our military,” he said.

Thornberry has backed the administration’s assertion that there is a crisis at the southern border, but has expressed concern with using military personnel and dollars to confront it.

He told reporters in March that he was “absolutely” concerned with a White House move to transfer $1 billion meant for counterdrug funding at the Pentagon to help build President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE's promised border wall.

With the newest deployment, there are now about 5,420 U.S. service members on the border, including roughly 3,320 active-duty service members and 2,100 National Guard members. The administration has said troops will stay at such posts until DHS “no longer requires DOD support to secure the southern border.”

The deployment is expected to cost at least $534 million by the end of the fiscal year in September.