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Sending Troops Home Could Pave Way for More Non-Competitive Defense Contracting

R. Jeffrey Smith
iWatch News / News Analysis
Published: Saturday 22 October 2011
“After more than ten years of conflict, and around $1 trillion spent, President Obama announces troops will leave Iraq.”
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Out go all the U.S. troops by year’s end, President Obama said Friday about Iraq. And in go the contractors, along with some familiar contracting problems, say other government officials and independent experts.

As the United States pulls out its remaining 50,000 or so troops after a decade of conflict costing around $1 trillion, many of the soldiers’ non-fighting functions will be pursued by a force of State Department-funded government contractors expected to near 15,000.

That preliminary estimate, now being circulated by the administration among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, would represent an overwhelming share of the official remaining U.S. presence in the unsettled country. But even after wide publicity about past contracting abuses and waste, new scandals may trail behind this persistent deployment, according to a commission created by Congress to study the missteps so far.

“After a decade of war, the government remains unable to ensure that taxpayers and warfighters are getting good value for contract dollars spent,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller and a member of the congressionally-created Commission on Wartime Contracting, told the Senate Armed Services committee a day before Obama’s announcement.

In an August report, prepared after a three-year study of contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the commission estimated that between $30 billion and $60 billion has been lost to waste and fraud so far in those conflicts, representing 15 to 30 percent of all that Washington has spent on contractor-provided security, civil reconstruction, training, and other nation-building work.

The commission warned that additional billions may be lost in the years ahead if Defense Department and State Department contracting authorities let remaining management problems fester or fail to safeguard contractor programs and projects that remain uncompleted.

“The Commission sees no indication that Defense, State, and USAID [Agency for International Development] are making adequate plans to ensure that host nations will be able to operate and maintain U.S.- funded projects on their own,” it reported.

Although some waste can be attributed to Iraq’s pervasive culture of corruption, many of the war’s contracting shortcomings stemmed from poor foresight, planning, and management by Washington that has not been adequately addressed, the commission said.

“Clearly, if the State Department until now has had trouble managing its contracts, and there is no question it has had some, I don’t know how it is going to manage all of this,” Zakheim testified. Katherine V. Schinasi, a colleague on the commission and former analyst at the General Accountability Office, said, “we’ve seen enough poor outcomes from State Department contracting that we were not in agreement” with the department’s positive assessment of its own abilities to undertake a wider role.

“The hard reality is that changing values, doctrine, expectations, practices, and other aspects of organizational culture in a vast and complex enterprise [like the Defense Department] is like herding icebergs,” Zakheim added, calling it “a slow process requiring heroic exertions, sustained attention, and unrelenting leadership.”

The handoff in Iraq from U.S. military forces to contractors has been under way for some time, but many of the estimated 16,054 U.S.-origin contractor employees remaining on the Defense Department’s payroll there in late summer may leave those assignments in coming months. They have provided training, base support, security, translation, logistics, construction and transportation for the U.S. troops that Obama said will be home by Christmas.

According to a preliminary estimate given at the Senate hearing, the State Department plans a persistent presence in Iraq of roughly 17,000 U.S.-paid workers, of which 14,000 may be contractors. On Friday, White House officials, speaking on background at a briefing for reporters, projected that 4,500 to 5,000 of these will be employed in guarding three U.S. diplomatic posts in Irbil, Basra, and Baghdad.

Zakheim, commenting generally about the government’s policies before the withdrawal announcement, testified that “we rely on contractors too heavily, manage them too loosely, and pay them too much.” He said the documented waste in past Iraq and Afghanistan contracts demonstrated that federal agencies still are not preparing properly for future contingencies.

He also said contractors still are not properly held accountable for their lapses, through suspensions, debarments, or prosecution. “Staffing shortages have led to a Defense Contract Audit Agency backlog of nearly $600 billion [worth of transactions], delaying recovery of possible overpayments,” Zakheim said. Some multi-billion dollar contracts are still not being opened to multiple bidders, he added, calling this “not at all reasonable” a decade after the U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition and logistics official and the senior official there overseeing the transition from military to State Department control, affirmed in prepared testimony that his department was initially “unprepared to manage” the contractors used in Iraq. It lacked the right policies, failed to employ the right contracting officers, and exercised poor management and oversight, he said.

Kendall noted, however, that annualized Army debarments of contractors increased from 94 to 178 over the past four years; the number of Army contracting officers has been increased; and new contracting policies have been written.

“There is a lot of risk in the transition” to State, Kendall added in response to questions from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “We are in decent shape” after a year of work, but “I’m sure there will be problems…The State Department has never done anything this big,” Kendall said.

 Responding to questioning from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) about the risks associated with shifting projects to local control, Kendall also said “we agree with your concern: We have not done as much, I think, in the past as we should about the sustainability of our projects [once they are turned over to the local government], so it is definitely a priority for our projects going forward.”

Reprinted by permission from iWatch News



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Home run! Great slugging with

Home run! Great slugging with that anwser!

The author's message is very

The author's message is very weak. Does anyone believe there are bonafide, honest, transparent, contractual relationships between the US Government (and State Dept), and contractors? Our government hands out contracts to its friends, many of whom now head the so-called private companies which contract with the government. The impotence of the government's audit department is intended and designed into the system, and it provides a handy excuse for failing to keep track of billions in USDollars. The State Dept is guilty as charged but the contractor corporations are just as culpable for their own corrupt practices and rip-off of US TAXPAYERS.

mycall8's picture

I don't see the connection ?

I don't see the connection ? Why borrow money from a bank that doesn't have it plus interest ? Especially to finance hopeless wars for the geopolitical and economic goals of the same ruling elite ? Social security funds itself from participating the peasants, environmental protection is a joke, public health please Monsanto is in charge for our benefit ?

Before the Federal Reserve

Before the Federal Reserve was born, the US didn't have environmental regulations, public health, social security, etc. Wars were financed by selling off US lands. There is a lot wrong with US use of tax money, however, I don't think this is the solution.

Why three diplomatic posts,

Why three diplomatic posts, with over 10,000 US State Dept. employees, with another 5,500 + contractors to protect these sites and the people. Oh yea, and there isn't any money to repair our infrastructure, or feed our hungry, or home our homeless, or give medical help to those who have lost theirs due to loss of a job. Priorities, fix the US first. Cut the pentagon and the defense dept. budget. War and its machine is only benificial to the corporations who make money from it, it s overdue to using our tax monies for us and our nation.

NO NO NO NO MORE PRESENCE IN

NO NO NO NO MORE PRESENCE IN IRAQ. What other country stays and rebuilds after a war but us. They are nothing a bunch of thieves. They will figure it out. We accomplished nothing, they hate as more then before ,they think we are weak for trying to help so give them a good reason for their hate. Leave them and all the middle eastern countries on their own. Out Out Out. No more money, no more interference, keep the State Department out of it. No more helping to rebuild Mosques. They just laugh at us,except when they are shooting at us.

Privatized for-profit prisons

Privatized for-profit prisons at home

In an August report, prepared

In an August report, prepared after a three-year study of contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the commission estimated that between $30 billion and $60 billion has been lost to waste and fraud so far in those conflicts, representing 15 to 30 percent of all that Washington has spent on contractor-provided security, civil reconstruction, training, and other nation-building work.OK GOP and Congress, more cuts in spending as you requested. More jobs lost for those contractors, which I don't really give a damn. GET OUT, take the losses and you 3% top contractors, just buy less Christmas presents this year.

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