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GAO: DoD Needs to Improve Contractor Support or Risk Force Effectiveness

GAO: DoD Needs to Improve Contractor Support or Risk Force Effectiveness - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Robert Gates
robertgates
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

As of December ’09, DoD estimates that over 207,000 contractor personnel are directly supporting operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, and DoD expects to increase the number of contractors in Afghanistan as more troops deploy there.  However, a recent GAO report suggests that DoD isn’t doing enough to support and oversee contractor personnel.

Here are the report’s key recommendations for DoD:

  • Provide additional personnel to conduct oversight and management of contractors.
  • Institutionalize training for DoD personnel (including non-acquisition personnel like unit commanders) on how to work effectively with contractors.
  • Institutionalize background checks for foreign nationals employed by contractors, particularly those hailing from the theater of operations.
  • Compile reliable data on the number of contractor personnel supporting U.S. forces.
  • Clearly identify requirements for contractor support in ongoing operations.

The report notes that the GAO has visited this issue before, making “many recommendations in the past aimed at addressing these challenges.”  But, though DoD has implemented some of these past recommendations, DoD has yet to “develop agency-wide procedures to screen foreign national contractor personnel.  In addition, the department has not fully addressed congressional direction to include operational contractor support in pre-deployment training.”

The report continues, “inattention to these challenges may negatively affect the military's mission through the inefficient use of personnel, may increase the risk to U.S. personnel through inadequate background screenings, and may result in increased waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Personnel

Oversight of contractor employees ultimately rests with the Contracting Officer, but frequently, contracting officers are not based where the services are being delivered. Consequently, contracting officers appoint contract monitors, who are responsible for monitoring contractor performance. For some contracts, like LOGCAP, AFCAP, or theater-wide service contracts like the Afghan trucking contract, contracting officers can delegate oversight to Contracting Officers’ Representatives (CORs) usually from the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) to monitor contractor performance.

But “during [GAO’s] December 2009 trip to Afghanistan, officials at a contracting command told us that their workload required them to devote all their efforts to awarding contracts, and as a result they could not provide contract oversight.”  Another unit, responsible for moving materiel out of the Iraq theater through Kuwait, “had 32 government personnel to provide oversight for more than 3,000 contractor personnel…In July 2009 this unit identified the lack of oversight personnel as a significant concern with respect to successfully moving equipment out of Kuwait.”

Materiel like this Stryker armored combat vehicle is backing up in Kuwait due to inadequate contractor support.
Materiel like this Stryker armored combat vehicle is backing up in Kuwait due to inadequate contractor support.

Finally, the June 2009 Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan found that DOD had insufficient logistics subject matter experts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In March ’09, the DCMA requested 57 subject matter experts for food, water, medical, fire, and petroleum services, but only 40 of the 57 positions had been filled as of January. Also, according to DCMA, only 19 of the 40 additional personnel had arrived in theater. “During [GAO’s] December 2009 trip to Afghanistan, DCMA officials stressed to us the need for more subject matter experts, and they have requested an additional 47 subject matter experts, but officials do not know when these positions will be filled.”

In other words, of a total of 104 additional oversight and support personnel requested by the DCMA, only 19 had arrived by January.  This problem is exacerbated by efforts to build economic capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Afghan First and Iraqi First programs.  “According to officials from the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan local national contractors frequently require more oversight than U.S. firms because they lack experience, have limited capacity, are frequently less capable then their U.S. counterparts, are unfamiliar with U.S. quality standards and expectations, and lack the quality control processes that U.S. firms have in place.”

Training

Apart from personnel, training is essential for improving the effectiveness of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. “According to several contract oversight personnel, some commanders did not understand the command and control relationship between themselves and the contractor, and were unclear as to whether they could direct the contractor to perform work.”

Absent a clear understanding of the command and control relationship for contractors, military commanders run the risk of directing the contractor to perform work beyond what was called for in the contract, resulting in additional charges because modifications would need to be made to the contract. In fact, directing contractors to perform extra work could result in a violation of competition requirements. The only contractor training programs implemented for DoD personnel thus far are for CORs at the unit level, but since CORs primarily function as auditors rather than operational commanders, the GAO recommends training for officers giving marching orders to contractor personnel.

Screening

Over 70% of the contractor workforce operating in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters are not U.S. citizens. “In Iraq, approximately 72,000 contractors are third country or Iraqi nationals, and in Afghanistan approximately 81,000 contractors, or 75 percent, are Afghan nationals. However, these numbers do not reflect the thousands of contractors in Kuwait and elsewhere who support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Iraqi contractors building a National Police barracks.  Difficulties in documenting and screening local contractors pose a significant security risk.
Iraqi contractors building a National Police barracks. Difficulties in documenting and screening local contractors pose a significant security risk.

The lack of documentation for many of these people coupled with the lack of an effective national police force in these countries makes screening these personnel a daunting task, especially since the DoD currently lacks a department-wide policy for screening foreign nationals employed by contractors. “Instead, each base is responsible for developing its own background screening and base access procedures, resulting in a variety of different procedures. Moreover, requirements differ between U.S. bases and NATO bases.”

While many bases have adopted a standard biometric identification system for local national contractor employees, data collection for issuing the badges relies primarily upon U.S.-based databases of criminal and terrorist information, and the system used in Iraq and Afghanistan “may not be effective in screening foreign nationals who have not lived or traveled to the U.S.”  Also, contracts for private security services often require data that is impossible for the contractors to obtain, like FBI and CIA databases.

Data

In January 2007, DoD adopted the Synchronized Pre-deployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) to collect data on contractor personnel deployed with U.S. forces, and it directed contractor firms to enter personnel data for contracts performed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, the the database is not comprehensive due to “diverse interpretations as to which contractor personnel should be entered into the system.”  For example, in Iraq, DoD officials “stated that the primary determinant of whether contractor personnel were entered into SPOT was a contractor's need or lack of need for a SPOT-generated letter of authorization.”

Because of the SPOT’s shortcomings, DoD conducts quarterly censuses of contractor personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. While DoD officials regard the census as the most complete source of contractor personnel data, they acknowledged that the census is just a rough estimate of the actual number of contractor personnel working in either country. “[GAO] found that census data were sometimes incomplete, while in other cases personnel were doubly counted.”

Contractor Requirements

When President Obama announced in December that 30,000  additional troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, estimates for the number of additional contractors required to support the troop increase range from 26,000 to 56,000.  During GAO’s December 2009 trip to Afghanistan, “[GAO] found that only limited planning was being done with regard to contracts or contractors. Specifically, we found that with the exception of planning for the increased use of LOGCAP, USFOR-A had not begun to consider the full range of contractor services that might be needed to support the planned increase of U.S. forces.”

Insufficient planning can lead to shortages in contractor personnel available to perform key functions, exacerbating all of the problems listed above.  Commanders can’t be supported by contractors who aren’t yet in theater, so if additional troops are deployed without adequate contractor support, contractors already present will be required to perform work outside the scope of their contracts.  This hurts contractor responsiveness and causes DoD to incur extra costs.

Bottom line: the DoD has serious shortcomings in its support and oversight of contractors.  Unless these problems are addressed, the result will be cost overruns and diminished force effectiveness.

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