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The Rise of Private

Military Contractors on
the Battlefield
Using the Multiple Streams Framework to
Explain a Controversial Aspect of U.S.
Military Policy
Sid Ellington
May 5, 2008


This paper examines the increase in the use of private military contract firms
in the Iraq theater of war. The paper utilizes the Multiple Streams framework
developed by John Kingdon as the theoretical means to examine the policy
decision to increase the use of private military contract firms in Iraq. By
focusing on the administration of President George W. Bush, this paper will
attempt to demonstrate the utility of Kingdon’s framework by identifying
elements of Kingdon’s three streams (problem, politics, and policy streams)
of the policy process. This paper hypothesizes that by identifying the
particular elements of each of the three streams of Kingdon’s framework
within the Bush Administration, a better understanding can be reached
regarding how and why the policy of increased use of private military firms
emerged as a viable option after the attacks of 9/11.

By the spring of 2008, Americans who were even slightly following the

Iraq war became aware that the U.S. is employing civilian contractors in Iraq.

Two of the more prominent private military contracting companies are

Kellog, Brown, and Root (formerly Brown & Root), the well-known subsidiary

of Halliburton, and Blackwater Worldwide. These companies have seemed to

dominate the headlines since 2001. Indeed, well-publicized events—from

Abu Ghraib, to Fallujah, to the September 16, 2007, Blackwater firefight in

Nisour Square in Baghdad—are prominent incidents familiar to many

Americans. Yet what the average American citizen might not know is exactly

how widespread the use of private contractors is in today’s military. Indeed,

the Department of Defense (DoD) “is increasingly contracting out services

ranging from health care to combat support” (Weidenbaum 2003, 698).

While estimates concerning the exact number of contractors deployed to a

theater of military combat operations are unknown and thus vary widely

(Hunter and Goure 2007, 3-4), it has been reported that during the First Gulf

War in 1991, there was one private contractor deployed for every 100

military personnel deployed. By late 2002, this ratio had been reduced to

10:1 (Spearin 2004). By 2006, the estimated ratio of soldier to contractor

deployed to the Iraq theater of operations was closer to 1:1 (Merle 2006).

Today, private military contractors and the firms they work for, whose

stories often grace the pages of major newspapers, popular magazines, and

the television airwaves, are part of a large and rapidly growing private

military industry. In 2006, the Washington Post reported there were about

100,000 private military contractors operating in Iraq. This number does not

include an additional and unknown number of subcontractors (Merle 2006).

Exact numbers are hard to come by because there are so many different

companies involved. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has referred to the “world

of contractors and subcontractors” in Iraq as “murky” (US House 2007, 7).

Recent estimates place the number of contractors in Iraq near 180,000,

which exceeds the number of uniformed U.S. soldiers in Iraq (Horton et al.

2008, 2). This conclusion is supported by the military’s somewhat inexact

figures resulting from its 2006 census of the civilian population operating in

the Iraq combat zone (Merle 2006). As Peter W. Singer, a Brookings

Institution Senior Fellow and leading expert on private military firms notes,

“private companies are becoming significant players in conflicts around the

world, supplying not merely the goods but also the services of war” (Singer

2005, 119).

Where did these private military firms come from? Why are there such

a large number of private military firms working alongside U.S. forces in a

war zone? How did these firms become such an integral part of the war

effort in Iraq? What exactly is the role these firms play in the larger strategic

picture? Is there a historical precedent for this type of military policy? How

did privatized military firms become a plausible policy alternative within the

Bush Administration’s military agenda for the Iraq war effort? Are there any

broader policy implications that have or may result from the use of these

firms on the battlefield?

This paper will attempt to examine these questions by looking at them

as part of a larger policy process. The traditional policy process involves, as

Brad Clark points out, “the evolution of abstract ideas into more concrete

and refined items, each engendering political attention and conflict. In the

process, certain subjects become prominent on the policy agenda, and some

alternatives are seriously considered while others are not” (Clark 2004, 599).

Yet, in the case of the DoD’s policy of increased use of private military

contractors in roles that have traditionally been filled by military soldiers, the

political conflict referred to by Clark did not take place within the legislative

branch of the U.S. government until large numbers of contractors were

working within the Iraq theater of military operations.

This paper will utilize the Multiple Streams framework developed by

John Kingdon as the theoretical means to examine the policy decision to

increase the use of private military contract firms in Iraq. By focusing on the

administration of President George W. Bush, this paper will attempt to

demonstrate the utility of Kingdon’s framework by identifying elements of

Kingdon’s three streams (problem, politics, and policy streams) of the policy

process. This paper hypothesizes that by identifying the particular elements

of each of the three streams of Kingdon’s framework within the Bush

Administration, a better understanding can be reached regarding how and

why the policy of increased use of private military firms emerged as a viable

option after the attacks of 9/11.

Following a summary of Kingdon’s multiple streams framework, this

paper will discuss the historical use of civilians in combat support roles and

the recent trend toward the privatization of many governmental services.

The paper will then apply the multiple streams framework to analyze the

problem dynamics, the political dynamics, and policy dynamics that led to

the decision to increase the outsourcing of military tasks and functions in

Iraq. The paper will try to identify what Kingdon refers to as the focusing

events, policy windows, and policy entrepreneurs that may have served as

policy decision enablers.

The Multiple Streams Framework of John Kingdon

Paul Sabatier has argued that “the process of public policymaking

includes the manner in which problems get conceptualized and brought to

government for solution” (Sabatier 1999, 3). He further states that

“governmental institutions formulate alternatives and select policy solutions;

and those solutions get implemented, evaluated, and revised” (Sabatier

1999, 3).

It is appropriate that one considers Sabatier’s broader view of the

overall policy process prior to the discussion of Kingdon’s framework, which

is focused primarily on agenda-setting and decision-making at the federal

level. As such, the multiple streams framework is, in its most basic concept,

a framework for explaining how policy decisions are made by the federal

government under a condition of “ambiguity” or competing ontological

positions regarding a specific issue or phenomenon (Zahariadis 2007, 65).

As Edella Schlager points out, “frameworks play a critical role in the

cumulation of knowledge [as they] bound inquiry and direct the attention of

the analyst to critical features of the social and physical landscape”

(Schlager 2007, 293). Unlike the Stages Model (Anderson 2003, 27), which

presents the policy process as a sequential pattern of stages (problem

identification, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy adoption, policy

implementation, and policy evaluation), the multiple streams framework

presents policy making as “a collective output formulated by the push and

pull of several factors” (Zahariadis 2007, 66).

Kingdon’s multiple streams framework was developed in 1984 as an

outgrowth of the Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice, which sees

organizations as “organized anarchies” (Cohen, March, and Olsen 1972, 1).

The garbage can model posits that “collective choice is not merely the

derivative of individual efforts aggregated in some fashion, but rather the

combined result of structural forces and cognitive and affective processes

that are highly content dependent” (Zahariadis 2007, 66). In other words,

the garbage can model sees organized anarchies as having three general

characteristics: (1) decision-making participants engage in conflict over

imprecise policy preferences; (2) individual participants are not static and

often drift in and out of the decision-making process; and (3) individual

participants do not necessarily have a clear understanding of the

organization’s larger processes (i.e. the big picture). Thus, any organization

is a “loose collection of ideas rather than a coherent structure” (Kingdon

1995, 84).

Another important factor to note in the garbage can model of

organizational decision-making is the impact of time, which Nikolaos

Zahariadis terms the “temporal sorting” of the decision-making process

(Zahariadis 1999, 75). In the hypothetical garbage can, where all of the

ideas and proposals for problem solutions reside, a policy solution might be

pulled out of the can not because it is the absolute best policy, but rather

because the policy proposal fits at that particular time. In a condition of

ambiguity, decision-making is limited by changing problem definitions, the

ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, and

sometimes even the presence of false and misleading facts. Reaching a final

decision then, becomes “less an exercise in solving problems and more an

attempt to make sense of a partially comprehensible world” (Zahariadis

1999, 75). In other words, if the policy “proposal comes at the right time” it

is thus much more likely to be accepted by the majority of the players in the

decision-making process (Kingdon 1995, 172). For Kingdon, the policy

process is made up of a fragmented community of varied specialists

(legislators, staffers, academics, analysts, lobbyists and policy

entrepreneurs) who are immersed in a particular problem. Ideas float

around in these communities in a “policy primeval soup” (Kingdon 1995,

116). Often it is these actors, located both inside and outside of

government, who are the ones that generate policy alternatives for a given

problem. They are the ones who put forward a wide range of ideas and

policy alternatives for the perceived problem. In the end, policy choice does

not resemble a smooth and structured process, but rather “process of

biological natural selection” (Kingdon 1995, 116). For Kingdon, this policy

primeval soup and its associated policy community constitutes one of three

streams that flow through the policy system. Of all of the policy proposals

floating through this “policy stream,” those that survive long enough to have

a chance of being accepted are those that are technically feasible and also

conform to the values of the policymakers (Zahariadis 1999, 76-77).

Of course, policies are useless without problems to which they can be

adhered. As a result, social problems make up a second stream that flows

through the policy system. According to Kingdon, social problems are

conditions that are seen as warranting government attention and action

(Kingdon 1995, xi). There are several ways problem conditions are identified

by policymakers. The first of these is by the interpretation of indicators,

which can be used to assess “the existence and magnitude of a condition”

(Zahariadis 2007, 70). Examples of indicators include things like highway

deaths, disease rates, costs of entitlement programs, or infant mortality

rates (Kingdon 1995, 90).

In addition to indicators, Kingdon identifies focusing events and

feedback as additional ways policymakers and/or citizens identify problems.

Sometimes problems gain notice through focusing events, such as crises or

disasters, that provide an attention focusing spotlight on problematic

conditions (Kingdon 1995, 94). Likewise, feedback from previously

established policies can underscore problems and bring them to light.

Feedback may result from things like program evaluation studies,

bureaucratic awareness, or complaints from citizens (Kingdon 1995,


One additional variable in the problem stream which should be

addressed is what Nikolaos Zahariadis calls “problem load,” which he defines

as “the number of difficult problems occupying the attention of policy-

makers” (Zahariadis 2007, 72). Problem load is important to note because if

a large number of difficult problems are competing for the attention of the

policy-makers, they are much more likely to satisfice as quickly as possible

so that other problems can be attended to. Sometimes, a decision made in

haste through satisficing can produce unintended consequences.

Kingdon’s third and final stream is the politics stream. This stream

consists of elements such as “the public (national) mood, pressure group

campaigns, election results, partisan or ideological distributions in Congress,

and changes of administration” (Kingdon 1995, 145). Of the elements listed

above, Zahariadis argues that the “combination of national mood and

turnover in government exert the most powerful effect” on the government’s

policy agenda (Zahariadis 2007, 73).

Thus, at any given time there are these three separate streams flowing

through the policy system: the problem stream, the policy stream, and the

politics stream. Policy choices or decisions are made when the three

streams come together at critical periods in time. Kingdon refers to these

periods of time as “policy windows,” which he defines as “an opportunity for

advocates of proposals to push their pet solutions, or push attention to their

special problems” (Kingdon 1995, 165). Policy windows open as a result of a

change in the politics stream. Examples of changes in the politics stream

include a shift of dominant ideology in Congress, a change of administration,

or a shift in the national mood (Kingdon 1995, 168). Sometimes, a policy

window can open as a result of the emergence of a new problem that grabs

the attention of policymakers. Kingdon posits that policy windows rarely

open, and once they do open are usually prone to rapid closure. Once open,

however, major changes in public policy can occur (Kingdon 1995, 168-169).

It is when the policy windows are open that the three streams come

together, and one of the many policy solutions that have been floating in the

primeval soup of the policy stream is “coupled” to the problem.

While coupling takes place when a policy window is open and a policy

decision is made by a policy-maker, the coupling process is usually greatly

assisted by an individual Kingdon refers to as the “policy entrepreneur”

(Kingdon 1995, 179). A policy entrepreneur is an advocate of a particular

policy. The policy entrepreneur is a person who is willing to invest resources

such as time, energy, reputation, and money to promote that particular

policy (Kingdon 1995, 179). In addition to resources, effective policy

entrepreneurs have access to legislators, dogged persistence, and

bargaining/negotiation skills which enable them to skillfully attach problems

to their preferred policy solutions and also find policymakers who are

amenable to their ideas (Zahariadis 2007, 74). However, as Kingdon points

out, policy entrepreneurs do much more than simply push their ideas onto

policymakers. They “also lie in wait—for a window to open…[and therefore]

must develop their ideas, expertise, and proposals well in advance of the

time the window opens” (Kingdon 1995, 181). Thus, policy entrepreneurs

are adept at “softening up” (Kingdon 1995, 128) or educating both the

political community and the general public regarding their particular policy

preference in an attempt to create the “fertile soil” (Kingdon 1995, 76)

necessary for an idea or policy alternative to take root. The importance of

the coupling skills of the policy entrepreneur cannot be overstated because,

as Kingdon points out, “a policy’s chances of being adopted dramatically

increase when all three streams—problems, policies, and politics—are

coupled in a single package” (Zahariadis 2007, 74).

This paper posits that Kingdon’s multiple streams framework, as

depicted in figure 1 below, is particularly useful when examining the rise of

private military contract firms in the Iraq war. As Zahariadis points out,

Kingdon’s framework integrates the policy community with broader events

“as well as addressing the ideas-versus-interests dilemma” (Zahariadis 1999,

78). As will be discussed in more detail later in this paper, it is clear that the

idea of privatization of government services was nothing new, and that the

use of private military contractors had increased since Operation Desert

Storm in 1991. Thus, the policy of increased use of private contractors

within the military had its advocates and its entrepreneurs. This paper will

argue that the events of 9/11 opened a window of opportunity which allowed

Kingdon’s three streams to couple, and the policy to be put into effect. The

resulting military policy decisions have increased the scope, location, and

criticality of the role of private military firms in the prosecution of warfare

(Singer 2005, 18). However, before further discussion on this topic can take

place, it is necessary to review the status of privatization of government

services and the use of private contractors by DoD prior to 9/11.

Figure 1
Diagram of the Multiple Streams Framework
Source: Adapted and modified from Zahariadis (2007)

From Privatization of Government Services to Civilians on the


In recent years, the idea of outsourcing government services to private

contractors has gained increasing traction. A growing demand from the

public sector for greater efficiency on the part of government has led to a

boom in outsourcing of public services at all levels of government to private

contract firms (Straight 1999, 18). Proponents of privatization argue that

outsourcing brings the force of market competition to bear. They posit that

competition is a fundamental force that leaves an organization no choice but

to heighten productivity, and thus achieves both economy and efficiency

(Osborne 1993, 352). Opponents, on the other hand, argue that outsourcing

is far from being the panacea it is touted to be. They cite a lack of

government oversight which actually leads to corruption and waste, and in

the end neither reduces government outlays nor increases efficiency (Prager

1994, 176). While the debate has raged in recent years as to the pros and

cons of transferring the government’s public responsibilities to the private

sector(O'Looney 1998),1 the ideas of either “outsourcing”2 or “privatization”3

of the U.S. military’s national defense mission was not something that, at

least in the twentieth century, ever achieved traction with mainstream

America. Indeed, “even the most radical libertarian thinkers, who tend to

think that everything else should be left to the market, made an exception of

the military” (Singer 2003, 7). The ideological foundations for this way of

thinking hearken back to the international relations theory of realism, in

which “sovereignty and warfare express the state’s authority in the

international system” (Serewicz 2002, 75). Thus, the modern notion of

making war is seen as the defense of national interests, and has been

considered the sole domain of the state.

Nearly every empire throughout history has contracted foreign troops

in one form or another (Singer 2003, 19). Historically speaking, rulers of old
Examples of government services that have previously been outsourced or privatized
include police, prisons, garbage collection, postal services, tax collection, utilities, and
“Outsourcing” does not include a full withdrawal of government-provided services, only the
choice of a different means of provision. Source: O’Looney, 1998.
According to O’Looney, “privatization” can mean either a government outsourcing with a
private firm or organization to provide a service or a government simply withdrawing from
providing a service (i.e. “load shedding)
often hired foreigners or other groups skilled in military matters to fight

some or all of their wars (Housen 2002, 1). A cursory examination of U.S.

military history finds that America, like other powers, has used civilian

contractors during war. Indeed, one early example can be found by going as

far back as the Revolutionary War (Spearin 2004, 41), when George

Washington hired civilians to transport supplies and engaged mercenaries to

train revolutionary forces (Pelton 2006, 100). While civilians have been used

in non-combat roles to support the U.S. military in almost every conflict since

the Revolutionary War, it wasn’t until after the U.S. invasion of Grenada that

the DoD sought to formalize the relationship between civilian contractors

and the military forces they were hired to support (Pelton 2006, 100). As a

result, the Army’s first Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) was

established in 1985 as a means to “preplan for the use of contractor support

in contingencies or crises” and to “take advantage of the existing civilian

resources in the U.S. and overseas to augment active and reserve forces”

(Howard 1997, 2). The overall purpose of the LOGCAP is to allow the U.S.

Army to “employ predetermined corporations” as a means of providing

logistical support to its forces (Pelton 2006, 100). The advantage to the U.S.

military is that the LOGCAP serves as a force multiplier by providing a way

for the Army to be ready for rapid deployment in response to a regional

contingency, “without the burden of having to maintain a long term support

capability throughout a time of peace” (Pelton 2006, 100-101). A second

advantage of the LOGCAP is that it served as a way for the DoD to save costs

and maintain capability while responding to the downsizing of the force

following the collapse of the Soviet Union (Pelton 2006, 101).

Yet, the conflicts in which the U.S. has been engaged since the end of

the Cold War “have brought home the dramatically changed nature of

civilian services as a fundamental feature of the American way of war”

(Hunter 2007, 1). For example, during World War II and the Korean War,

private contractors amounted to less than five percent of the total number of

deployed soldiers. By the time of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, that

number had grown to about ten percent (Horton 2007). In the past, the U.S.

has used private contractors to provide non-combat services and logistic

support. However, in Iraq today, the scale of contractor support has reached

unprecedented heights. Private military contract firms in Iraq are filling roles

that traditionally belonged to U.S. combat troops (Hunter and Goure 2007,

4). These roles include air traffic control, refueling of aircraft, the

maintenance and loading of advanced weapons systems, and security

operations (Gaviria 2005). Most estimates report that for every U.S. soldier

deployed to Iraq, there is one civilian contractor also in Iraq filling a

traditional military role (Merle 2006). In filling these traditional combat roles,

the private military contractor now has a role in all levels of warfare. Private

contractors, who have traditionally operated only in the rear-echelon areas,

today operate in the actual tactical area of operations (Singer 2003, 91).

The result is that some contractors in Iraq fill “combat roles now closely

parallel [with] those of Constitutionally and Congressionally authorized

forces” (Fainaru 2007). Thus, private military contractors are now involved

not only in roles of logistical support and technical assistance, but also in

strategic level military advice and planning (Singer 2005, 120). Contractor

security firms such as Blackwater are also involved in actual combat

engagements with Iraqi insurgents (Singer 2005, 120). Singer uses what he

calls the “tip of the spear” typology to make his point, referring to the spear

head as the area of actual combat, or operations at the tactical level4. The

shaft the spear represents the level of warfare further away from actual

combat engagements, specifically at the operational5 and strategic6 levels of

war. In other words, private contractors now fill roles in a combat zone

ranging from weapons carrying and enemy engaging security guards to

those who prepare and serve meals to soldiers. One way to think of this is

that private contractors roles now range from shooter to fry-cook. An

adapted and modified version of Singer’s typology is depicted in figure 2

The tactical level of war is the level at which battles and engagements are planned and
executed to accomplish military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces.
Activities at this level focus on the ordered arrangement and maneuver of combat elements
in relation to each other and to the enemy to achieve combat objectives. (Source:
Department of Defense Joint Pub 1-02).
The operational level of war is that at which campaigns and major operations are planned,
conducted, and sustained to accomplish strategic objectives within theaters or other
operational areas. Activities at this level link tactics and strategy by establishing operational
objectives needed to accomplish the strategic objectives, sequencing events to achieve
operational objectives, initiating actions, and applying resources to bring about and sustain
these events. These activities imply a broader dimension of time or space than do tactics;
they ensure the logistic and administrative support of tactical forces, and provide the means
by which tactical successes are exploited to achieve strategic objectives. (Source:
Department of Defense Joint Pub 1-02.).
The strategic level of war is the level at which a nation determines national security
objectives and guidance, and develops and uses national resources to accomplish these
objectives. Activities at this level establish national military objectives; sequence initiatives;
define limits and assess risks for the use of military and other instruments of national power;
and develop global plans or theater war plans to achieve these objectives (Source:
Department of Defense Joint Pub 1-02).
Figure 2
Tip of the Spear Typology
Source: Adapted and modified from Singer (2003)

So exactly how did the role of private contractors expand from roles of

support to roles in security operations near the very tip of the spear? The

next part of this paper will use the multiple streams framework to examine

the elements within the military policy system that made up the problem

stream, the political stream, and the policy stream. The paper will attempt

to identify key focusing events, policy windows, and the key policy

entrepreneurs who took an active part in the decision-making process. The

paper will also attempt to discern the impact these individuals had on the

policy decisions that led to the rapid growth of private military firms on the


Creating Fertile Soil: Military Outsourcing and the Three Streams in


According to Kingdon’s framework, before a policy can be

implemented, a problem (or perceived problem) must first be present and

need to be addressed. As stated earlier, policy makers often discover that a

problem exists through indicators, focusing events, or feedback. (Zahariadis

2007, 70).

For the U.S. military, a perceived problem began to rear its head in the

early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. By the end of the first

Gulf War, numerous scholars, pundits and lawmakers alike were declaring an

“end of history” (Fukuyama 1992) as it had been known during the Cold War

years and were calling for the U.S. government to cut military spending and

to cash in on the “peace dividend” (Greenhouse 1992). There were also

indicators within the political stream that the American public also felt that

the U.S. should reduce military spending. This general feeling was indicated

by a 1993 Gallup Poll in which 80 percent of Americans felt that U.S.

spending for “national defense and military purposes” was “too much”(42%)

or “about right”(38%) (Poll 1993). Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell seemed to be fully onboard

with the idea of downsizing DoD, and responded to the political pressure by

proposing not only cuts in military expenditures but also deep cuts in the

number of U.S. troops stationed in Europe (Mintz 1990, 1283).

Yet downsizing, while politically necessary at the time, potentially

created new problems. Sensing a need to be able to respond quickly to

trouble spots in the post Cold War world, Secretary of Defense Cheney

believed any military capability shortfalls resulting from the military

drawdown could be easily and efficiently offset by the use of private

contractors. Thus, he went ahead and cancelled a number of expensive

weapons systems, began reducing the overall number of troops from 2.1

million to 1.4 million (Spearin 2004, 41), and systematically reduced the DoD

annual budgets (Scahill 2007, 28). When it came to troop reductions, the

Army took the biggest hit, having its force reduced by over 25 percent

(Briody 2004, 195). The logic behind these moves was simple. By

outsourcing non-combat logistical tasks to civilian contractors, the troops

would be free to engage the enemy’s forces. Thus, fewer troops would need

to be deployed. Privatization of military tasks also included an added

political benefit. Given the general public’s aversion to large troop

deployments, using contractors allowed for “a much more politically

palatable troop count” (Briody 2004, 196). Thus, before he left office,

Secretary Cheney commissioned a study into the possibility of expanding the

Army’s LOGCAP program as it existed at that time, in order to allow for

drastically increasing privatized logistical support for the military. After the

study, the new LOGCAP contract was awarded to Halliburton subsidiary

Brown & Root (Briody 2004, 184-185). The 1992 LOGCAP contract specified

three main tasks for Brown & Root. First, the company would develop one

worldwide military logistics and support management plan and 13 regional

support plans. Second, the company would participate in military planning

and military exercises. Third, the contract required that the company be

prepared to execute the above plans upon notification (Howard et al. 1997,


During the 1990s, when the U.S. military was being deployed around

the globe to participate in operations from Somalia to Bosnia to Haiti, Brown

& Root went along. By all accounts, the performance of the company was

excellent (Briody 2004, 186). The LOGCAP contract was used to provide a

wide range of logistics and engineering services to the Army. In the military

operations in Bosnia, for example, these services included troop housing and

facilities, food service operations, laundry operations, base camp and

equipment maintenance, and cargo handling throughout the area of

operations (Howard et al. 1997, 3). As a result of their outstanding (though

costly) performance under arduous circumstances, the concept of LOGCAP

privatization grew to be viewed as highly successful at the highest levels of

DoD (Briody 2004, 187). Thus, by the end of the Clinton administration, the

concept of outsourcing military support services to private contractors was

well established. It seemed that, at least for small to medium scale military

deployments, the policy of privatizing the logistical mission was successful.

As the concept of privatizing military logistics was becoming accepted

within the DoD, the concept of privatization was gaining even greater

traction both inside and outside of policy-making circles and spreading into

the political stream. In 1995, Donald Rumsfeld, who was working in the

private sector at the time but would later become the Secretary of Defense

under President George W. Bush, wrote that he was absolutely convinced

that Congress should only use the federal government to solve problems “as

a last resort,” and that most tasks could be better handled by the private

sector (Rumsfeld 1995, 4). Rumsfeld’s outlook echoed a growing view by

both lawmakers and the private sector that the revolution in information

technology (IT) was fundamentally changing the way work could by done. By

tapping into the IT revolution, the excessive personnel and redundancy in

operations could be avoided in both government and in business. Rumsfeld

wrote (Rumsfeld 1995, 10):

Government programs are effectively insulated from

the rigors of the marketplace, and therefore are
denied the possibility of failure. … Sometimes,
nothing short of outright privatization can restore the
discipline of a bottom line. … Competition is what
brings out the best in people and organizations.

Yet while the concept of privatization of government services was

becoming more and more palatable for both lawmakers and the private

sector, by the late 1990s, the Army itself was becoming less and less able to

fully support deployments using only Army capabilities. Potential issues

were identified in a 1997 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that

fit well into the problems stream and the political stream. In the problem

stream, the GAO report found that the Pentagon considered it necessary to

use LOGCAP because of shortfalls in the Army’s ability to meet combat

support and combat service support missions during a major regional

conflict, or another war the size of Desert Storm. In the political stream, the

report also revealed what the Pentagon saw as the “political sensitivity” of

activating guard and reserve forces and its “desire to maintain a relatively

low U.S. presence” (Howard et al. 1997, 6-7).

Thus, by the end of the 1990s, the Pentagon had, through the Army

LOGCAP, begun to contract out “every conceivable kind of service except

firing a rifle or dropping a bomb” (Johnson 2003, 57). This policy was seen

by Pentagon leadership as an advantage. For example, the Army’s Deputy

Commander for Support in Bosnia cited food and laundry services as two

areas where the contractor was able to provide a higher standard of service

than were the Army units which had typically provided those services during

deployments (Howard et al. 1997, 9). At the same time the size of the

military was being reduced as part of the post-Cold War peace dividend, the

Pentagon was experiencing an increased operational tempo overseas

(Spearin 2004, 246). As a result, the “fertile soil” to which Kingdon refers

had, in the case of future expansion of the privatization policy beyond that

which was outlined in LOGCAP, been created.

The election of 2000 would bring the Administration of George W. Bush

to power. Bush would instill two strong policy entrepreneurs of military

privatization, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, into key policy-making

positions within his administration. Cheney, who, as stated earlier, had been

the CEO of Halliburton Corporation (the parent company of Brown & Root),

and had used his contacts from his days as Secretary of Defense to increase

the number of military contracts for the company during the Clinton

Administration (Briody 2004, 224-225), assumed the Vice Presidency in

January 2001. It was Cheney who recommended Rumsfeld as Secretary of

Defense to President Bush (Kirk 2004). Soon after, Rumsfeld was named the

21st Secretary of Defense.

As a policy entrepreneur, Rumsfeld immediately went to work putting

the ideas of privatization he had outlined in 1995 to work. He oversaw the

writing of the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR), which is the

document that guides how the Pentagon is to manage America’s national

security interests and the transformation of its forces (Spearin 2004, 247).

The central objective of the first version of the QDR published under

Rumsfeld was to “shift the basis of defense planning from a ‘threat-based’

model that [had] dominated thinking in the past to a ‘capabilities-based’

model for the future” (Shelton 2001, 6). In other words, Rumsfeld was

calling for a transformation of DoD. Overall, the concept of transformation

centered around “accepting new concepts to maximize warfighting

effectiveness” (Shelton 2001, 7). Transformation was focused on maximizing

the benefits of the Revolution in Military Affairs, which was being driven by

the increased use of modern technology. Rumsfeld wanted to increase the

Pentagon’s reliance on modern technology and high-tech weaponry on the

battlefield, so that the fighting force could win America’s wars in newer and

more efficient ways. The belief was that the Pentagon would be able to

maintain, or even boost, the potency and effectiveness of the armed forces

through the development of high tech weaponry (Blanco et al. 2003)

Rumsfeld believed that by utilizing modern communications networks,

precision guided munitions, and unmanned aerial vehicles, a lighter, leaner,

and more potent force could be brought to bear against America’s enemies

(Kirk 2004).

Yet, another part of the transformation emphasized an increasing

integration with the private sector (Shelton 2001, 58). Specifically, the 2001

QDR called for a focus of “DoD owned resources [only] in those areas that

contribute[d] directly to warfighting” (Shelton 2001, 61). All other functions,

or those that were not core warfighting functions, were to be provided by the

private sector (Shelton 2001, 61). The 2001 QDR stressed that DoD would

immediately begin to “rely on the private sector” and would continue to do

so “well into the forseeable future” (Shelton 2001, 49). Additionally, the

increased use of modern technology created yet another variable within the

problem stream. The influx of more technologically complicated systems

also meant highly complex maintenance and operational functions. In many

instances, the U.S. military began to acquire systems so complex that its

own troops did not have the capability to maintain them (Spearin 2004, 255).

This complexity naturally necessitated an increased reliance on highly

trained and skilled contracted technological experts from the private sector

(Spearin 2004, 248).

Approximately nine months after the Bush team assumed power,

America suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. What followed were

U.S. military invasions into Afghanistan and Iraq. The precedent of using

military contractors to support military deployments had been established.

Advocates of privatization were in key policymaking positions, the soil for an

expansion of this policy had been fertilized, and 9/11 provided the policy

window. The following section will discuss post 9/11 military policy and the

incredible rise of private military contractors on the battlefield.

Policy Subsystem Dynamics: Policy Windows, Military Outsourcing

and the Three Streams after 9/11

In applying the Kingdon framework to this study, it is clear the terrorist

attacks of 9/11 served as a focusing event like none the U.S. had witnessed

since Pearl Harbor. In the days immediately following the attacks, President

Bush ordered the Pentagon to “be ready” as “the hour was coming when

America [would] act” (Bush 2001). In response to the crisis, his

administration quickly adopted a more flexible and improvisational decision-

making approach, and began “operating with unaccustomed speed” (Milbank

and Graham 2001). This approach resulted in a higher degree of power

delegation and a “dramatically compressed [form of] decision-making”

(Milbank and Graham 2001). The degree of delegation by the President,

undoubtedly in response to problem load, resulted in a less cautious decision

making style as key cabinet members gained more autonomy.

By the end of 2001, American troops were in Afghanistan and by the

spring of 2002, plans were being made for an invasion of Iraq (Packer 2005,

45). In the political stream, polling data shows that the American people

seemed to support the President and felt that taking out Saddam Hussein

was the right thing to do. During the period of time leading up to the

invasion of Iraq, the President enjoyed an approval rating that was

consistently in the 57% to 58% range in four Gallup polls conducted between

Feb. 17 and March 15, 2001. The President’s approval rating shot to 71%

following his nationally televised ultimatum speech directed toward Saddam

Hussein. Overall, 76% of Americans believed the war would be short and

that American troops would suffer relatively few casualties (Newport et al.


Prior to the invasion, the administration fought hard to keep public

approval for the war high. However, within the policy stream, not everyone

was in agreement. One particularly interesting and highly contentious

exchange occurred between Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his Deputy

Paul Wolfowitz on one side, and Chief of Staff of the Army General Eric

Shinseki on the other. The dispute was over the number of troops which

would be required for an invasion of Iraq. Rumsfeld, with his focus on

transformation warfare and fielding a lighter and more narrowly focused

striking force, argued that it would take no more than a maximum of 50,000

troops to do the job successfully. General Shinseki, whose views were

steeped in Army doctrine7, testified before a Senate Armed Services

Committee hearing that “several hundred thousand” troops would be

required (Kirk 2004). Shinseki argued that in an environment of post-

At that time Army Doctrine, also referred to as the Powell Doctrine, was based on the 1991
Gulf War model. The model called for “overwhelming force” anytime the US military went to
war. Thus, according to Army doctrine, an invasion of a country the size of Iraq would
require approximately 560 thousand troops (Source: Kirk 2004).
hostilities, controlling a country the geographic size and population density

of Iraq, large numbers of troops would be needed “to deal with the kinds of

ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems” (Kirk 2004). Clearly

irritated, Rumsfeld and his Deputy Paul Wolfowitz responded immediately,

calling the estimate by General Shinseki “ off the mark” (Kirk 2004).

Wolfowitz argued that “Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led

liberation force” and that large numbers of American troops would not be

needed because “nations that oppose[d] war with Iraq would likely sign up to

help rebuild it” (Schmitt 2003).

On March 17, 2003, a U.S. led invasion force of approximately 140,000

U.S. troops, which was much smaller than Army doctrine called for, crossed

the border into Iraq and drove toward Baghdad. By April 9, 2003, Baghdad

had fallen (Shadid 2003). The swift defeat of the Iraqi conventional army

initially seemed to invalidate traditional Army doctrine and serve as a

showcase for transformation warfare (Blanco et al. 2003).

However, things quickly began to get out of hand as the nature of the

war changed from a conventional battle to an insurgency. The Pentagon had

been confident of overwhelming victory in Iraq and “believed that

reconstruction would take place in an environment with little threat from

insurgents or terrorists” (Solis 2006). By June 2003, the situation on the

ground in Iraq had grown worse, and the increasing levels of violence served

as a major indicator that there were simply not enough troops on the ground

to maintain order (Hoar 2003).

The shortage of troops created a vacuum and presented the Bush

Administration with a real problem. The post Cold War downsizing had left

the military with far fewer troops than would be needed for a long term

occupation. Politically, reinstating the draft appeared to be a non-starter. A

2003 Gallup Poll showed that 69% of Americans did not support the return of

the draft (Carlson 2003). To fill the shortfall, the Administration turned to the

private military industry. The reliance on private contractors freed more

military troops to focus on carrying the fight to the insurgents (Spearin 2004,


The issue of “problem load” was also present following the fall of

Baghdad (Zahariadis 2007, 72). The Bush Administration was dealing with

wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which was taking its toll on the number of

troops. Additional problems emerged, which occupied the attention of

military policy-makers. As the war lengthened, the Army began having a

real difficulty in meeting its recruiting goals (Tyson 2005). This shortfall was

being felt in Iraq as soldiers began to complete additional deployments. The

Administration’s response was to increase the number of private security

contractors. These individuals began taking over security operations all over

Iraq, thus expanding operations for private military contractors from the

operational level of war to the tactical level of war. The mission of the

private security firms was “to protect government agency officials and

reconstruction contractors in Iraq’s unstable security environment” (Solis

2006, 5). Again, the logic behind this growth was to free up more soldiers for

combat operations. The GAO reported that between 2005 and 2006, the

number of private security operators in Iraq increased by 92% (Solis 2006,

2). This is no small outlay of services, as evidenced by a January 2006 State

Department report to Congress that stated the costs of security in Iraq

represented as much as 22% of the overall cost of reconstruction (Solis

2006, 7).

Summary and Conclusion

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has significantly altered the

overall make-up of the force it deploys into an area of combat operations.

Based upon the multiple streams framework of John Kingdon, this paper has

attempted to explore the factors and reasoning behind the shift in U.S.

military policy toward the increased reliance on private contractors since the

end of the Cold War. In a little over a decade, the military’s use of private

contractors in a theater of combat operations increased from a ratio of 100

soldiers for every contractor to the point that now the contractors outnumber

the soldiers in Iraq. During the decade long evolution of this policy, several

elements in Kingdon’s three streams of the policy process have been


In the problem stream, the end of the Cold War and ensuing desire to

cash in the so-called “peace dividend” led to a series of rather significant

reductions in both troop levels and in DoD budgets throughout the 1990s.

To overcome the shortfall in troops, the Pentagon, under then Secretary of

Defense Dick Cheney, expanded LOGCAP and began to rely more on private

military firms to cover traditional rear-echelon support tasks. Based upon

feedback from senior military commanders, the privatization of military

support missions in operations from Bosnia, to Somalia, to Haiti appeared to

be highly successful. Furthermore, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

was enforcing his vision of transformation warfare. He wanted to transform

the Army into a lighter and more nimble fighting force that was better able

to take advantage of new technology and to respond to emerging twenty

first century threats. He was convinced that the Army, bound by a doctrine

which emphasized overwhelming force, was an ultra conservative institution

whose only model of warfighting was the 1991 Gulf War model.

Following the attacks of 9/11, which focused the nation on the Global

War against Terrorism, the Bush Administration made the decision to expand

the war from Afghanistan to what was perceived to be an emerging threat

from Iraq. To overcome the problems associated with problem load, the

President adopted a more decentralized decision-making style and delegated

some decision making authority. Leading planners within President Bush’s

cabinet envisioned a rather short war with few casualties. Many within the

President’s inner circle believed the Iraqi people would welcome the

American forces as liberators once Saddam was removed from power.

Rumsfeld fielded an invasion force of about 140,000, far below that required

by Army doctrine. Initially, his decision appeared to be the right one.

Indeed, the Iraqi Army was quickly defeated and Baghdad fell within the first

three weeks of the war. However, it soon became evident that the U.S. did

not have enough troops on the ground to maintain security, and many

outside of the Bush Administration began to call for more troops.

For the most part, the Army was unable to field an army the size it had

fielded during the 1991 Gulf War for an indeterminate period of time.

Furthermore, within the political stream, the Bush Administration was

politically unwilling, to send the several thousand troops Army Doctrine had

originally called for. This was due primarily to the fact that the

Administration had sold the war to the American people as one that would be

cheap and quick. While polling data shows that a majority of the American

public supported an invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power, it did

not support reinstating the draft as a way to increase force levels for a

prolonged occupation of Iraq.

Given the policy feedback regarding the success of the expansion of

LOGCAP and the use of private contractors, the Administration turned once

again to private military firms such as Kellogg, Brown & Root (formerly

Brown & Root). Private military firms were certainly willing to pursue the

lucrative U.S. government contracts, and what followed in the policy stream

was a shift toward an increase in the use of private contractors to a

historically unprecedented level. Hundreds of companies, many newly

formed, rushed to fill the troop shortfall. Further, the tasks, roles, and

missions filled by private contractors were also expanded to include security

and force protection missions.

As Kingdon postulates, policy entrepreneurs were central participants

in the chain of events and decisions leading to the rise in reliance on private

military contractors. Two key members of the Bush Administration are

particularly noteworthy. First, Vice President Cheney, when he served as

Secretary of Defense during the first Bush Administration, expanded LOGCAP

and began downsizing the active duty force before he left office. Secretary

of Defense Rumsfeld, during the second Bush Administration, pushed a

vision of transformation warfare, a key component of which was outsourcing

non war-fighting tasks to the private sector.

The degree to which the U.S. military now relies on private military

contractors is significant and unprecedented. It has been reported that

during the 1991 Gulf War, the ratio of U.S. Army soldier to private contractor

was 100:1. In Iraq, this ratio is now approximately 1:1, with some reports

stating that the contractors actually outnumber the uniformed military. As a

way to meet the goals of limiting the size of the active duty military

footprint, while at the same time freeing up more military personnel for

combat roles, Pentagon leadership has shifted many of the tasks that used to

belong to soldiers over to private contractors. These tasks include base

construction, weapons and vehicle systems maintenance, base operations

support, security, communications services, intelligence analysis, and

interpreters who accompany military patrols (Solis 2008, 1). As Chalmers

Johnson has pointed out, “the days of G.I.’s doing guard duty and cleaning

latrines have virtually disappeared” (Johnson 2003, 57). Thus, private

military contractor support is an integral and vital part of the U.S. military’s

force projection capability and, as the Iraq case shows, its ability to wage

irregular warfare (Hunter and Goure 2007, 2; Spearin 2004, 249).

Kingdon’s multiple streams framework has been used in this paper to

provide insight into how defense policy was altered to allow for such a

significant rise in the use of private military contractors on the battlefield.

While the framework is useful for analysis and explanation, it doesn’t have

predictive power. As a result, it is difficult to say where this policy is going to

go from here. Some, however, believe that the privatized military industry

“will continue to play a significant and increasing role in international

security in the next decades” (Singer 2003, 93). Support for this argument is

made by others who note that the types of private military firms that “live off

of the defense budget” have become adroit at “engineering political support

by spreading subcontracts around the maximum number of Congressional

districts” (Betts 2007, 68).

While the purpose of this paper is one of using a theoretical framework

to explain the adoption of the policy rather than to critique the policy, it is

worth noting that many have called for increased oversight of the

contractors and the firms they work for. Allegations ranging from contractor

fraud to unlawful firing of weapons on Iraqi civilians have made headlines in

the last couple of years. Also, given the fact that policy subsystems overlap,

and changes made within one policy subsystem can profoundly affect

another policy subsystem, it is worth further study to explore any possible

impact corporate actors can have on the future of the active duty military.

For example, a contractor who is holding a job that would have been held by

a junior enlisted soldier if not for the policy of privatization, receives much

higher pay than the active duty soldier.8 Many young soldiers are actively

recruited by the private military companies while they are deployed. As a

result, many soldiers leave the military as soon as they are able and

immediately go to work for the private military industry. While the Army’s

policy of stop loss9 limits some of the exodus, the Army may still be suffering

a drain of talent. When the cost of training a soldier is taken into account,

the fiscal impact on the Army may be huge.

Contractor salaries in Iraq vary depending upon the type of job they hold. A truckdriver for
Halliburton, for example, makes about $300-$600 per day. A security guard for Blackwater,
can make as much as $1,000 per day. (Source: Gaviria 2005). On the other hand, an E-6
soldier with 10 years experience makes a base pay of $2, 595 per month.
Stop loss is the military’s policy of involuntary extension of a service member’s active duty
service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of
active obligated service (EAOS).
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