Commentary

Earth to Government: Less CORS Equal Higher Risk of Fraud

By David Isenberg
This article appeared in the Huffington Post on March 1, 2010.

In a previous piece I wrote that “it is easy to forget that oversight and accountability is improving.” Well, everything is relative. A new joint audit by the Inspect Generals of the State and Defense Departments shows that oversight still has a huge way to go and old problems are still very much with us.

The report, DOD Obligations and Expenditures of Funds Provided to the Department of State for the Training and Mentoring of the Afghan National Police (ANP) confirms once again that when it comes to the government’s legal responsibility to provide qualified personnel to ensure compliance with the terms of the contract it is AWOL.

To its credit the private military contracting industry has long noted the lack of qualified people to do oversight on contracts. Yet for all their complaints government is still dilatory in providing people. And often, those who are provided are overburdened and in man cases, under trained, that they end up relying on the contractors they are supposed to monitor, in a sort of surreal imitation of the famed Joe Isuzu “just trust me” advertising campaign.

The objective of the audit was to review the status of Afghanistan Security Forces funds that the Department of Defense (DOD) provided to the Department of State (DOS) for the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP), the contract management activities, and the ability of the ANP training program to address the security needs for Afghanistan.

What the audit found was that the DOS internal controls were ineffective.

We identified internal control weaknesses in the DOS contract oversight for the ANP training program. DOS did not: maintain adequate oversight of Government-furnished property,

maintain contract files as required by the Federal Acquisition Regulation,

always match goods to receiving reports, or

follow internal control procedures requiring in-country contracting officer’s representatives to review contractor invoices to determine if the

The audit recommended that the Commanding General, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, should:

clearly define the requirements for the ANP training program and establish contractor performance standards that will meet those requirements and

direct the contracting officer for the new DOD contract to assign sufficient contracting officer’s representative staff and implement effective contractor oversight procedures. (p. i)

The Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Resource Management and Chief Financial Officer should:

return any funds in excess of the amounts identified as appropriate disbursements and, at a minimum, return $80 million; (p. ii)

Although the audit doesn’t say its name the contractor is DynCorp. As Christine Spolar of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund previously reported last fall, administration officials shifted oversight of police training from the State Department to the Defense Department. The transition was supposed to take place by February. But the company that holds the State Department contract, DynCorp International, filed a protest.

State Department and DynCorp officials said the civilian police contract has now been extended through the end of July while the Government Accountability Office reviews the company’s appeal.

DynCorp, which for years has trained police in Iraq for the State Department, received an 18-month, $317 million contract in 2008 to do the same work in Afghanistan. The program focused on law enforcement skills. But as the Taliban stepped up its attacks on recruits, U.S. military leaders pushed to include more counterinsurgency and tactical training.

This is not the first time DynCorp has been in trouble over training police in other countries.

In April 2003 the U.S. State Department awarded DynCorp a one-year contract in a limited competition against SAIC worth up to $50 million to support law enforcement functions in Iraq.

In May 2003, under the Department of State Advisory Support Mission (DASM) contract, DynCorp International deployed, supported, and equipped U.S. law enforcement personnel to provide police presence, enhance public security, and assist in reestablishing the Iraq National Police by providing necessary training to local police. SAIC was brought in by DynCorp to cooperate in the contract delivery.

The United States Investigative Services (USIS) also played a role.

Under the contract, up to 1,000 civilian technical advisors with 10 years of domestic law enforcement, corrections, and judicial experience, including at least 2 years in specialized areas, were to help the government of Iraq organize effective civilian law enforcement, judicial, and correctional agencies. Advisors would work with Iraqi criminal justice organizations at the national, provincial, and municipal levels to assess threats to public order and mentor personnel at all levels of the Iraqi legal apparatus.

In February 2004, Computer Sciences Corporation won a State Department contract for civilian police (CIVPOL) services worth about $1.7 billion over five years. On July 15, 2004, functions being performed in Iraq under the DASM contract were shifted to the CIVPOL contract, which was one of three planned contracts that were awarded under the State Department’s Civilian Police Program.

CSC was to recruit up to 2,000 experienced American law enforcement specialists to serve in civilian policing missions overseas.

Initially the training of Iraqi police forces was a haphazard affair. The Pentagon began to rebuild the Iraqi police with a mere dozen advisors. Overmatched from the start, one was sent to train a 4,000-officer unit to guard power plants and other utilities, a second to advise 500 commanders in Baghdad, and another to organize a border patrol for the entire country.

Before the war, the Bush administration dismissed as unnecessary a plan backed by the Justice Department to rebuild the police force by deploying thousands of American civilian trainers. After Baghdad fell and a majority of Iraqi police officers abandoned their posts, a second Justice Department proposal calling for 6,600 police trainers was reduced to 1,500,and then never carried out. At that time DynCorp had already located 1,150 active and retired police officers who had expressed interest in serving in Iraq.

Field training of the Iraqi police, the most critical element of the effort, was left to DynCorp, which received $750 million in contracts. When it became clear in 2004 that the civilian effort by DynCorp was faltering, American military officials took over police training, relying on heavily armed commando units that had been established by the Iraqis. Within a year, members of the Sunni Muslim population said some units had been infiltrated by Shi’ite Muslim militias and were kidnapping, torturing, and executing scores of Sunni Muslims.

Flashing forward to the present, the contract to train the ANP is being administered by State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The audit identified internal control weaknesses for DOS and found it did not have the following internal controls for contract administration and oversight:

INL did not conduct management assessment visits, and COR [Contracting Officer Representatives] and I-CORs [In-Country Contracting Officer’s Representative] did not always match goods to receiving reports, maintain adequate oversight of Government-furnished property, or maintain complete contract files. (p. 4) The audit also found that the overall CIVPOL contract is not flexible enough to meet U.S. national strategy demands. This is a point worth remembering as private contractors routinely claim that they are more flexible than their public sector counterpart. If it is a case where one private firm deals with another that might very well be true. But in the case of Afghanistan the contractor can only operate as fast as its client permits. And here the client is the U.S. government, which is not known for winning awards for the speed for which it formulates and bids contracts.

The audit notes:

The DOS CIVPOL contract does not meet DOD’s needs in developing the ANP to provide security in countering the growing insurgency in Afghanistan because the current contract arrangement does not allow DOD to make rapid changes in ANP training as the security situation in Afghanistan changes. As a result, the ANP lacks the necessary skills to combat the growing violence in Afghanistan and to provide a more stable and secure environment for Afghanistan citizens. …

Under the current contract arrangement, DOD must coordinate any changes through INL, which causes delays in implementation. For example, the current MOA between DOS and DOD states that DOD must provide updated training requirements 120 days in advance; however, according to INL personnel the process actually requires 6 months to implement. (p. 5)

Bear in mind that this is not the fault of the contractor. It can only do what the client specifies through the contract. But it is a problem when the contract does not say how the contractor’s performance is to be measured.

The current CIVPOL contract is ambiguous and because DOS is the contracting agency DOD cannot direct the contracted advisors and mentors and Afghan trainers as needs change. According to a CSTC-A senior official, DOD must communicate changing requirements through INL and wait for changes to be implemented. The contract task orders simply require the contractor to provide personnel, life support, and communications. The current task orders do not provide any specific information regarding what type of training is required or any measurement of acceptability. Additionally, the current contract does not include any measurement of contractor performance. Therefore, a new contract has been proposed. The proposed contract, which DOD will manage, should clearly specify training requirements. Additionally, the proposed contract and task orders should clearly state that the contractor must fulfill these specified training requirements. (p. 7) But what the audit does make clear is something that should be gospel by now. The less contracting officer representatives you have the higher the risk of fraud and waste of funding.

According to the audit the contract may well have had the equivalent of ghost CORs, people who, on paper, appeared to be there but weren’t.

Prior to our site visit to Afghanistan, we requested that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Jordan Support (AIJS) officials and the contracting officer provide a list of I-CORs serving in Afghanistan and their dates of service since the contracting officer did not assign an administrative contracting officer. The contracting officer provided an abbreviated list of CORs and I-CORs and stated that the COR could provide information about service in Afghanistan; however, the COR was unable to provide that information. According to the COR and I-CORs, I-CORs are frequently rotated in and out of Afghanistan but no record was maintained by the contracting officer to document dates of service in Afghanistan. In addition, the contracting officer provided delegation letters for I-CORs that included assignments of authority for personnel that the COR, I-CORs, and contracting officer could not identify as working as an I-COR further demonstrating the lack of control over COR and I-COR staffing. The contracting officer should immediately terminate the delegation of I-COR authority of all inactive or reassigned I-CORs to provide an accurate count of existing I-CORs. Without terminating inactive I-CORs, the contracting officer maintains a roster of I-CORs that misrepresents the number available to oversee the contractor and includes personnel who should not have the authority to represent the contracting officer. (p. 11) …

Despite the increased number of I-CORs assigned to the ANP task orders, only three I-CORs were in Afghanistan during our site visit while two I-CORs and the COR were stateside at headquarters. The in-country designation attached to the I-COR is misleading because the majority of I-CORs do not perform their functions in Afghanistan. To adequately fulfill the various roles and responsibilities required of the COR and I-COR more CORs and I-CORs are required in Afghanistan to perform contractor oversight. (p. 13)

Additionally, not all CORs are created equal.

The contracting officer issued one COR and seven I-COR delegation letters FF to monitor the ANP task orders. Of the seven active I-COR delegations, one does not work on ANP task orders, two cannot monitor task order S-LMAQM-08-F-5375 (task order 5375), one works only half of the year, three were located in the U.S., and only three were located in Afghanistan. Only one I-COR possessed authority to oversee task order 5375 prior to June 2009 despite nearly $325 million obligated prior to June. …

On August 15, 2005, the contracting officer for INL awarded task order 4305 for the ANP. However, due to the size and complexity of the contract, contract oversight was grossly understaffed with one COR prior to July 2006 despite obligating more than $232 million. During 2006, the contracting officer delegated administrative authority to one COR and two I-CORs, however, during our site visit, we were unable to find any evidence of surveillance by the two I-CORs. By the beginning of 2008 nearly $675 million was obligated without any evidence of an I-COR functioning in Afghanistan. (p. 12)

The audit also found that because of a lack of proper internal control procedures DOS officials paid the contractor for goods and services that may not have been allowable or reasonable under two of the task orders supporting the ANP contract.

As of July 30, 2009, the Invoice Reconciliation Team had not reviewed invoices under task orders 4305 and 5375; however, the AIJS personnel emphasized that they had identified $322 million in invoices under contract S-LMAQM-04-C-0030 that were approved even though they were not allowable, allocable, or reasonable. Furthermore, the Invoice Reconciliation Team estimated that approximately 50 percent of the approved invoices had errors. (p. 24)

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.