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Private-security bills soar to $4 billion a year

WASHINGTON — Over the past four years, the amount of money the State Department pays to private security and law enforcement contractors has soared from $1 billion to nearly $4 billion a year, Bush administration officials said Tuesday, but they said the department had added few new officials to oversee the contracts.

It was the first time the administration had outlined the ballooning scope of the contracts, and it provided a new indication of how the State Department's efforts to monitor private companies have not kept pace. Auditors and outside exerts say the results have been cost overruns, poor contract performance and, in some cases, violence that has so far gone unpunished.

The majority of the money goes to companies like DynCorp International and Blackwater USA to protect diplomats overseas, train foreign police forces and assist in drug eradication programs. There are only 17 contract compliance officers at the State Department's management bureau overseeing spending of the billions of dollars on these programs, officials said.

The Army has 70 people managing just $900 million in logistics contracts in Kuwait, Pentagon officials said.

In a report delivered to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday, a review panel found that there are too few U.S. officials in Iraq to enforce the rules that apply to Blackwater and other security contractors. It also found that the conduct of the contractors has undermined the broader mission of ending the insurgency and establishing a democratic government in Iraq.

The panel recommended steps to strengthen oversight of the security contractors, including a revision of the rules for the use of deadly force and creation of review panels to investigate every episode involving the injury or death of a civilian.

Interviews with administration officials, auditors and outside experts show that the use of contractors has grown far beyond what department officials imagined when they first outsourced critical security functions in 1994 and hired private security guards to protect U.S. diplomats in Haiti.

A few years later, the department went outside again to hire private bodyguards for the U.S. diplomats in Bosnia.

Today, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the small State Department office that oversees these private security contractors, is overwhelmed by its responsibilities to supervise the contractors, according to former employees, members of Congress and outside experts.

They say the office has grown too reliant on, and too close to, the 1,200 private soldiers who now guard U.S. officials overseas.