Commentary

The Contractors that Couldn’t Shoot Straight?

It is often true, as supporters of private military contractors contend, that media coverage of their activities is unfair, inaccurate, or biased. Doug Brooks, founder and head of IPOA, a major pro-contractor trade association has been saying that since its founding in 2001

But that does not mean they are above criticism. In fact, it can be said that some times that they do not get the criticism they deserve.

For example consider the story published March 20 by Pro Publica and Newsweek regarding the training of the Afghan National Police.

Perhaps the public is jaded by all the stories about problems with private military and security contractors over the years but this story was not the run of the mill story about fraud or an unjustified killing. This dealt with actions that had strategic consequences.

America has spent more than $6 billion since 2002 in an effort to create an effective Afghan police force, buying weapons, building police academies, and hiring defense contractors to train the recruits — but the program has been a disaster. More than $322 million worth of invoices for police training were approved even though the funds were poorly accounted for, according to a government audit, and fewer than 12 percent of the country’s police units are capable of operating on their own.

The contractor that was hired in 2003 by the U.S. State Department to do the police training was DynCorp International, which had held previous contracts to train police officers in Kosovo and Haiti. DynCorp, still holds the contract . It is an extension of a contract which has expired and that extension runs until July of this year.

One of the astonishing allegations in the article was this:

At Kabul’s police training center, a team of 35 Italian carabinieri recently arrived to supplement DynCorp’s efforts. Before the Italians showed up at the end of January for a one-year tour, the recruits were posting miserable scores on the firing range. But the Italians soon discovered that poor marksmanship wasn’t the only reason: the sights of the AK-47 and M-16 rifles the recruits were using were badly out of line. “We zeroed all their weapons,” says Lt. Rolando Tommasini. “It’s a very important thing, but no one had done this in the past. I don’t know why.”

Now, for those who are going to be handling a rifle, learning to zero the sights or the scope is, to borrow from Sherlock Holmes, elementary. Not teaching a recruit how to do it would be like neglecting to ensure a SEAL can swim. Obviously, a rifle that is not sighted properly is one that doesn’t hit what it is firing at, with the result that lives can be needlessly lost. This is especially so given that insurgents in Afghanistan are increasingly targeting the Afghan police and that average annual death rates among these police officers have been steadily increasing.

I am hardly the only one struck by this. Consider what said this past Thursday at the hearing held by the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The chairwoman, Sen. Clair McCaskill said in her opening remarks:

Training the police in Afghanistan is part of our military mission. It is as important as anything else we are doing in that nation right now. It’s as important as training the military. It’s as important as hunting down the terrorists and killing them.

So what has happened in that regard? And it is an unbelievably incompetent story of contracting. For eight years we have been supposedly training the police in Afghanistan. And here is what we have done. We’ve flushed $6 billion, $6 billion.

Now, am I exaggerating? Let me quote the general in charge of training the police in Afghanistan. This is what General Caldwell said. And I quote, “It’s inconceivable that in fact for eight years we weren’t training the police.” He went on to say that essentially we were giving them uniforms.

No one had control of these contracts. No one agency. This has been a game of pass off. The ultimate recipe for disaster is not having one single agency with clear line of authority in charge able to make sure the mission is accomplished with efficiency, effectiveness and that money is not walking away.

None of that happened for eight years. I’ll give you one anecdote. Early this year, the Italians showed up. This has been an international effort, very unorganized but nonetheless an international effort. The Italians showed up.

And the Afghan volunteers that had volunteered to be on these police departments were posting horrible scores on the shooting range. They were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. And there was this wringing of hands, what are we going to do about these Afghan police officers that were training that can’t hit the side of a barn.

The first part of this year, the Italian paramilitary came in and began looking at the problem. Are you ready for this, what the problem was? Nobody had checked the sights on the AK-47s and the M16s they were shooting, they were out of line.

So we were paying somebody to teach these people how to shoot these weapons and nobody that we were paying had bothered to check the sights as to whether or not they were in line. So these guys were using the sights, they weren’t in line with where they were shooting. Now, that’s one example.

But I think it’s pretty illustrative. These contractors, for whatever reason, didn’t have anybody who was saying you have to check the sights when the scores were coming back bad, year after year after year after year.

One can only wonder if it allegations like this that made General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, say on Friday that he wanted to reduce the number of private security contractors in Afghanistan. McChrystal was quoted as saying:

We have created in ourselves a dependency on contractors that is greater than it ought to be. I think it would be better to reduce the number of contractors involved, increase the number of military if necessary and, where we have contractors, in many cases, I believe we should stop using foreign contractors and use a greater number of Afghan contractors.

Possibly he just had logistics contractors in mind but until he says for certain we can’t be sure.

Bear in mind this is not the only training contract DynCorp has in Afghanistan. On February 17 the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) awarded DynCorp International a $232.4 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract to assist the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) and NATO Training Mission (NTM) by providing mentors and trainers to develop the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense (MOD.) This new contract has a 2-year base period valued at $157.8 million, including a 60-day Phase-In period to full performance. The total potential contract value is $232.4 million if the one year option period is exercised.

Not to mention that DynCorp is in the running for a major contract win a contract potentially worth as much as a billion dollars training the Afghan National Police. Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) was previously considered a top contender for this but, given news about the problems its subsidiary Paravant had in its contract training the Afghan National Arm as detailed in the Feb. 24 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and the March 15 GAO decision upholding the challenge by DynCorp in its protest over the contracting process for training Afghanistan’s police, DynCorp is back in the running.

As Sen. McCaskill said at the hearing, “I’ll make a bold prediction, DynCorp will be extended again, and DynCorp will be there doing this until a decision is made as to what extent our level is going to change in terms of our commitment in Afghanistan sometime next year.”

DynCorp filed its protest in December 2009 after learning that the civilian police training contract was not going to be competitively bid.

Also bear in mind that one of the most heavily used arguments in favor of using private contractors is their presumed cost-effectiveness. The argument is that judicious use of contractors allows the big Army Green to be a lean, mean fighting machine. In other words, relatively small numbers of such contractors act as force multipliers for the regular military. But as the Washington Examiner points out, according to U.S. Central Command figures, as of September 2009 there were 104,100 private contractors assigned to Afghanistan versus only 63,950 actual troops. To put these figures into historical perspective, during the 1991 Gulf War the ratio of U.S. military troops to contractors was approximately 50 to 1. According to these latest numbers, the ratio slightly favors the contractors 1.6 to 1.

Now, even if all the allegations in Pro Publica and Newsweek article are true it does not necessarily mean the fault is entirely with the contractors. As Sen. McCaskill noted at the hearing:

Now, if this frankly was the first time that we’d heard this, then maybe we shouldn’t have a full-blown hearing. We’ve identified the problem, now you can get to work.

Now, here is the rest of the story. 2005, GAO reported that Department of State did not develop a plan for when, how or at what cost the training or equipping of ANP would be accomplished. 2006, DOS, the Department of State and Defense inspectors generals found management of the DynCorp contract to be problematic and require more effective coordination between Department of State and CSTC.

And I’ve started talking in acronyms. It means I’ve been here too long. That is essentially the division of the military that’s in charge of overseeing these contracts.

2008, GAO found State and Defense still had not developed, coordinated detailed plan for completing and sustaining ANP force and DOD, Defense IG reported that CSTC-A [Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan], the military department in charge had not developed training programs. How about contracting officers? Department of State, we found in this 2010 report that contracting officers were not providing adequate surveillance.

Guess what? 2005 they said that. 2006 they said that. SIGAR, who frankly has not completed enough reports that are meaningful in terms of the oversight capacity of our government, they even found in 2009 there was a problem.

Curriculum. The current report says there is a problem with curriculum. Guess what, 2006 they said the same thing.

2006 State and DOD IG reported obstacles to establish a fully professional Afghan National Police, including illiterate recruits and history of low pay, pervasive corruption, on and on and on. In other words, this is the third or fourth time that people who check into our government have said, hello, it’s not working, you’re not doing a good job.

Now, this doesn’t compute. Essential to our mission, men and women dying for the cause and we can’t get basic contract oversight of this function under control. So this is going to be a tough one, and there are going to be some tough questions because there is no excuse for this to go on any further. There is no excuse.

Lest you think this is just another partisan remark here is what Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), the new ranking member of the subcommittee, said:

And then when I read the Newsweek article, and then when I’ve done my own due diligence and the research and read the reports I’m like, I don’t get it. We’re not talking about, you know, couple of hundred million dollars. We’re talking about $6 billion.

Assuming the police training contract has been as much of a disaster as the Pro Publica/Newsweek article alleges one has to wonder why. As mentioned above it would be unfair to pin all the blame on DynCorp. The federal government would certainly share in it. According to Evelyn Klemstine the assistant inspector general for audits for the State Department:

In overseeing the CIVPOL contract, we found that State Department contracting officials did not assign sufficient numbers of contract oversight personnel to the ANP task orders and did not prepare a quality assurance surveillance plan to ensure that the contractor met the performance requirements of the statement of work.

In addition, those contracting personnel who were assigned to monitor the task orders did not provide adequate oversight to ensure that all goods and services were received. Specifically, the following internal control weaknesses were identified.

Number one, government-furnished property was not adequately accounted for. Number two, contract files were incomplete and not always available. Number three, deliverables were not always matched to receiving reports, and number four, procedures for reviewing contractor invoices to determine whether the costs were proper were not followed.

As a result of these internal control weaknesses, State Department personnel could not ensure that funds allocated by DOD for the program were expended in accordance with DOD requirements. We recommended that the number of contract personnel responsible for contract oversight be increased, that a complete inventory of government property be performed, that the contract officer maintain complete and accessible contract files and that goods and services be matched against invoices.

In addition, we recommended that the Defense Contract Audit Agency, DCAA perform an audit to determine whether all expenditures were allowable, allocable and reasonable and request reimbursement from DynCorp for any payments that DCAA determines to be improper. In response to the draft report, management generally agreed to increase the number of oversight personnel going forward and strengthen internal controls and undertake an audit.

In addition to identifying various internal control weaknesses, we also requested contractor invoices and other supporting documents for $217 million in ASF funds already expended. Unfortunately, State Department financial managers did not provide detailed transaction data until after the draft report was issued. As a result, we could not determine whether the department had expended funds in accordance with congressional intent.

Now problems with the Afghan National Policy and its retraining are not exactly new. One of the things future histories of U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan will have to figure out is why it took so long for such a mismanaged effort to finally attract official notice. As another subcommittee member, Sen. Edward Kaufman (D-DE), said:

I’d no idea we spent $6 billion. I’ve not had a single person in any one of those briefings refer to the Afghan National Police as anything except a big problem. Not a problem getting well, a problem just the way they sit. They’re purveyors of corruption from one end of Afghanistan to the other.

Just to end where I started DynCorp is a member company of IPOA. IPOA has a Code of Conduct that “seeks to ensure the ethical standards of IPOA member companies operating in conflict and post-conflict environments. Given the billions of dollars that have been spent on training the Afghan National Police and the widely held view that not much has been received for the money one might think that IPOA would want to investigate to try and ascertain the truth. If DynCorp is innocent of the allegations and has fully complied with the terms of its contract and all problems are the result of government mismanagement one would certainly want that known. And if DynCorp is guilty of mismanagement one would think IPOA would want to investigate, if only to maintain its own credibility.

Of course, IPOA is funded in large part by the contributions of its member companies. Although in fairness, even the largest annual contribution, for general members is only $8000. DynCorp is a general, meaning full, member. That gives it a seat on IPOA’s Board of Directors, which sets the annual budget, approves revisions to the Code of Conduct, elects the Executive Committee from member representatives, and makes other major decisions.

As of July 2009 John South, Senior Director and Vice President, Operations at DynCorp was a member of IPOA’s Executive Committee. In January South started as Vice President of Security Services at EOD Technology. EODT is also a IPOA member company. On April 2 it was announced that South has been selected to serve on IPOA’s Board of Directors.

Of course, as IPOA itself plainly notes “The IPOA Enforcement Mechanism allows any person or organization to lodge a complaint” and complaints are directed to the Chief Liaison Officer of the Standards Committee, who is an employee of IPOA and is not affiliated with any company,” meaning the Board of Directors is not involved.

Also note that for anyone wishing to file a complaint “The IPOA Standards Committee may only consider complaints based on alleged violations of the IPOA Code of Conduct.” In that regard one might want to look at Section 3.2 which states, “Signatories shall support effective legal accountability to relevant authorities for their actions and the actions of their personnel. Signatories shall proactively address minor infractions, and to the extent possible and subject to contractual and legal limitations, fully cooperate with official investigations into allegations of contractual violations and breaches of international humanitarian and human rights laws.”

The above is not to suggest in any way that IPOA has done anything wrong. Still, if a fraction of the allegations surrounding the police training contract are true DynCorp has, as Ricky said to Lucy, “got some ‘splainin’ to do!” While, as I’ve noted previously, I think the IPOA Code of Conduct is largely window dressing I’d rather have it than not, if only to set a low bar for bad behavior. Possibly losing $8000 as opposed to maintaining your organizational credibility does not seem a large price to pay.

David Isenberg is an analyst in national and international security affairs and a US Navy veteran. He is also a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, and the author of a new book, Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.