Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's Only Money

A State Department Inspector General's report has found that the contracting out of security measures for diplomats and civilians not only was legally flawed, it also was poorly managed.

From the Washington Post:

The State Department may have violated federal regulations in turning over management aspects of its multibillion-dollar private security contract in Iraq to other contractors, the department's inspector general concludes in a report released [January 9, 2009].

The report, produced by a regional IG office established last year to keep closer watch on expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security had been "highly effective in ensuring the safety" of diplomatic personnel in Iraq. There have been no casualties among U.S. diplomatic and civilian officials protected by contractors under the bureau's supervision.

"However," it says, "the rapid rise in use and scale of private security contractors has strained the Department's ability to effectively manage them." Department efforts, the IG found, were "undermined by frequent staff turnover, understaffing, increased workload, and the lack of standardized operating policies and procedures."
[Emphasis added]

Nearly six years into this debacle and the administration finally decided to take a look at what hiring companies like Blackwater involved. No surprise there, eh? Now, contracting with private companies to supply security in the war zone is apparently perfectly legal, but at least one portion of those contracts were not.

The report says contractors had been hired to keep track of government equipment supplied to security contractors in Iraq -- including more than 500 vehicles, 7,500 weapons, $4 million in annual ammunition purchases and "sensitive communications items." The contracting of this "inherently governmental function," it says, was a possible violation of federal acquisition regulations.

In other words, contractors were hired to keep track of other contractors in the use of federal property. That's an interesting bit of accountability shifting, one that would be easy to subvert even further.

But wait: there's more.

The IG found that neither the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad nor the Bureau of Diplomatic Security had reviewed how many security contractors were needed or where they should be deployed since the embassy opened in June 2004 -- a period of rapid security change, for better and for worse, in Iraq. Last August in Kirkuk, for example, investigators found 14 guards assigned to protect one Foreign Service officer. In the embassy's Basra regional office, 113 security contractors were assigned to guard personnel who had left their fortified military base only five times since January. At Tallil Air Base, north of Basra, "there were no security protection movements for more than six consecutive months despite the 30 to 53 security specialists stationed there," the report says. [Emphasis added]

That Foreign Service officer must have felt really special with all of those guards hanging about. I just hope feeding them all didn't fall under his operating budget.

Look, I fully appreciate that in a war zone it's not easy to keep track of all the details, especially when the personnel who are supposed to keep track keep changing or are burdened with too much other work. Still, when millions of dollars are involved, surely somebody should have been assigned to check log sheets noting the number of contractor employees showing up for work and where they were assigned. Of course, that would assume that anybody cared, and it certainly looks like nobody did, at least until this report came out. It also would assume that the whole process was not, at its very roots, a scam of magnificent proportions, when it's beginning to look like that's exactly what it was.

Nothing about this illegal and misbegotten war and its management surprises me anymore. Instead, I feel the kind of disgust that will only be assuaged when a full investigation into all of its facets is completed and indictments are filed. I am not holding my breath on this one.

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Blogger Cosa Nostradamus said...

The good news is, the contractors are very effective.

The bad news is, they eat babies.

So, the glass is half full.

7:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years ago the Bead Society of Greater New York had has a speaker an Army major who had worked in Community Affairs. He spoke about their programs in Iraq to create friendly relations with Iraqis. He described a program with young girls in which they were taught about jewelry making and given beads which were donated by groups like the Bead Society. And he described how they kept CASH on hand to give to local leaders. They would have upwards of a million or three on hand in CASH. And no records were kept on who they gave money to, how much and when. They'd just grab some cash on the way to a meeting. I was appalled. The major may have been a good man, but the system was and is corrupt. And it was business as usual.


11:08 AM  

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