New Report: US Taxpayers Are Wasting Millions On Contractors To Train Explosive Sniffing Dogs
The US State Department (DOS) spends millions on it’s explosives detection canine services program in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dogs are trained to sniff explosives to ensure safety of US as well as foreign personnel on the ground. The program is operated through contractors like the DC based RONCO Consulting Corporation, which further sub-contracts the work to others like the ArmorGroup of North America, Triple Canopy etc. According to a report recently published by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), this program is seriously mismanaged, as contractors are neither doing their job properly, nor are they supervised.
The OIG reviewed three specific explosives detection canine programs managed by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) in South Asia and the Middle East, and reached the following conclusions. Here’s an excerpt from the report:
- All of the Department’s explosives detection canine services are part of various security-related contracts in South Asia and the Middle East. These contracts include the embassy security force contracts in Baghdad and Kabul and task orders of the Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract in Baghdad, Tallil, and Erbil in Iraq and Kabul, Afghanistan. Canines in these programs regularly conduct searches and inspect vehicles, packages, and luggage.
- Given that the Department employs nearly 200 canines and handlers for these services, the expenditures for canine services can be considerable. For example, the Department pays over $24 million per year for canine services associated with the Baghdad Embassy Security Force.
- The ability of a canine to recognize explosive scents is the foundation for any explosives detection canine program, and canines should be able to recognize common explosives. Canines under Department contracts must comply with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Odor Recognition Proficiency Standard for Explosives Detection Canines. This standard includes testing for six mandatory scents of the most commonly encountered explosives.
- During its review of these three programs, OIG found systemic weaknesses in canine test procedures that call into question the ability of the canines to effectively detect explosives. The contractors do not test for all mandated scents and use old materials to train and test the canines, although fresh materials are required. Additionally, the improper method of storing these materials may be leading to cross-contamination (which violates the standards laid out by the Treasury, which specifically prohibits cross-contamination of scents of explosives, so as to ensure that the dogs are accurately trained).
- At the time of OIG’s field work, no independent expert had validated the detection abilities of the canines or determined whether the contractors comply with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Odor Recognition Proficiency Standard for Explosives Detection Canines since the award of the contracts.
- The Department of the Treasury’s standard requires that fresh explosives be used for each testing session and that testing be done annually. At none of the locations could contractors verify the age of the testing materials. One contractor reported using testing material obtained over three years ago from the previous security contractor. Other contractors indicated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell or the Department of Defense’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit provides the testing explosives, many of which are collected from unexploded improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan and are of indeterminate age.
- Canines undergo regular scent recognition testing under which they must be able to recognize six mandatory scents. In two programs, contractors did not possess all testing substances. In a third program, the contractor reported that it tested for all six scents, but could not verify to the OIG team that the materials used were actually the required testing substances. No contractor had reliable documentation to validate either the receipt or composition of testing materials. Contractors with all three programs reported that they either did not know how to ship in fresh testing materials or were incapable of doing so.
- Certain explosive testing materials must be stored separately as they tend to readily cross- contaminate with other explosives. However, the OIG team observed that in all three programs, contractors stored these particular materials with other explosives, which may result in contaminated testing materials. Contractors with all three programs stated at the time of OIG’s fieldwork they did not have the space to store materials separately.
- During field work in Iraq and Afghanistan, the OIG team did not encounter any DS personnel with expertise in explosive detection canines. Instead, according to DS staff members, they depended upon the knowledge and expertise of the contractors to ensure all contractual requirements and other standards were met. The contractors responsible for the canines reported to OIG that no outside organization with expertise in explosive detection canines had ever reviewed their operations in Iraq or Afghanistan
The OIG’s conclusion: “OIG’s examination of three explosive detection canine programs revealed systemic problems that directly affect the safety and security of U.S. Government personnel and installations. In the three programs OIG reviewed, the contractors, rather than DS, were responsible for implementing the program and ensuring that contractually required procedures were being followed. Contractors are not testing for all scents, are using possibly expired or contaminated materials to test canines, and are storing materials in a manner that may be leading to cross-contamination.”
The Center for Public Integrity has this to say about the RONCO Consulting Corporation, the contractor in charge of this mess: “On March 14, 2003, Ronco was awarded a contract by the U.S. Defense Department worth more than $419,000 to come up with a plan to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate the Iraqi armed forces, as well as national and regional militias. The State Department contracted with Ronco to perform two main functions in the landmine clearance activities in Iraq.
Ronco received a six-month contract from the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives’ Afghanistan Political Transition Grant Project. To fulfill this contract, Ronco established offices in Afghanistan to coordinate the disbursement of grants designed to rehabilitate Afghanistan’s social and economic infrastructure. According to USAID, Ronco is in charge of creating “a broad operational platform for the entire USAID effort in Afghanistan.” Toward the end of the initial six months, USAID extended the contract to one year for a total value of $5.65 million.
Ronco has also been involved in Afghanistan’s demining efforts. The company provides training and assistance to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance and the Mine Action Program Afghanistan. In January 2002, the State Department provided approximately $3.1 million to support the salaries and expense costs of 15 Ronco staff members stationed in Afghanistan to train Afghan mine clearance personnel, according to a State Department fact sheet.
Among Ronco’s full-time staff of 90 U.S. and 300 host country personnel, the company boasts on its Web site of employing many ex-government officials, including “a former USAID deputy assistant administrator, mission directors [and] senior military personnel.” Among the former USAID employees is Larry Crandall, who is currently Ronco’s vice president for International Programs. Crandall was mission director of USAID’s operations in Haiti. According to USAID’s presentation to Congress in 1997, Ronco was a contractor in Haiti while Crandall was mission director in that country.”
RONCO has been awarded even more contracts worth millions by the DOS beside the $3.1 million contract mentioned above. We are not only wasting millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money but this puts at risk those who depend on these explosive detecting services for their safety. The only ones benefiting from this mismanaged program are the contractors who are paid handsomely for their (lack of) services.