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Contractor Failings Left U.S. Kabul Embassy Safety Gap

Posted by Steve Hynd on June 11th, 2009

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There’s a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight today, the subject of which is a $189 million contract to provide security services at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul awarded by the State Dept to ArmorGroup North America, Inc. (“AGNA”), a subsidiary of the British-owned ArmorGroup International in 2007. AGNA were supposed to provide a highly trained security force for the embassy.

But that’s not how it turned out, according to the documents lodged with the hearing. The subcommittee staff summary says:

The Kabul embassy contract can be viewed as a case study of how mismanagement and lack of oversight can result in poor performance. The record before the Subcommittee shows that AGNA’s performance on the Kabul embassy contract has been deficient since the start of the contract in July 2007. The result is that, at times, the security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul may have been placed at risk.

The State Department denies that the embassy was ever in actual danger, but does say security was poor enough to have “negatively impacted…performance of guard services in a high-threat environment” – a distinction that sounds like no distinction at all. State doesn’t deny that there were serious security staff shortages, with up to 18 security guards absent from their posts at a time due to what AGNA admits was “supervisory personnel negligence.” Nor does it deny lack of profficiency in English or poor traing among the guards. But it says matters have improved after 2 years of the contract:

In recent months, AGNA has made significant improvements to its performance. With respect to some of the deficiencies, however, the contractor is now in compliance only because the State Department changed the contract’s requirements. According to the State Department, the contractor has only three remaining deficiencies: the lack of a secondary armorer; inadequate English language proficieny among the guard force; and the lack of one variet of traing weapon for the guard force.

But that’s not all the story. The documents also reveal that in January, 2008, AGNI informed the State Dept that it was conducting an internal investigation into:

allegations that the company improperly procured counterfeit goods for the embassy guard force. Documents received by the Subcommittee indicate that boot, swinter jackets,and gloves purchased by AGNA at a cost of more than $130,000 were in fact counterfeit.

AGNA’s investigation also revealed that the AGNA logistics manager had acquired the counterfeit goods from a company owned and managed by his wife. In total, the logistics manager purchased a total of $380,000 worth of equipment from his wife’s company. According to the AGNA program manager in Kabul, the State Department was aware of this arrangement.

On January 24, 2008, the State Department requested that the logistics manager be removed from the contract. In early February 2008, AGNA informed the State Department that the logistics manager had resigned. On February 27, 2008, however, based on information received from State Department officials in Kabul, the State Department learned that the logistics manager was in fact still working on the contract in Kabul. One week later, AGNA told the State Department that the logistics manager was no longer working for AGNA.

The hearing began a short time ago and transcripts should be available soon. But it beggars belief that AGNA has kept its contract so long under such circumstances, the only penalty being a deduction of $2.4 million from the contract value. And of course no story of contractor incompetence in servicing America’s occupations would be complete without a measure of sordid crime or corruption. I’m reminded forcibly of McClatchy’s Jonathan Landy, who stated unequivocally back in January that he believes U.S. officials — not U.S. contractors, but officials — are complicit and involved in the corruption.

More on this later.

(Also on News Hoggers)

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