Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

KBR Loses Bid to Throw Out Iraq Convoy Death Cases

By Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk at Bloomberg

March 25 (Bloomberg) — KBR Inc., the largest U.S. military contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, lost a bid to throw out claims it sent civilian drivers into a battle zone in Iraq in 2004, knowing they would be attacked and possibly killed.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller dismissed a lawsuit by an injured driver, while allowing claims by the families of seven drivers who were killed to proceed. Miller granted an immediate stay to KBR to appeal his ruling before a trial would be scheduled. Trial had been set for May in federal court in Houston.

KBR, and its former parent, Halliburton Co., urged Miller in November to dismiss the drivers’ claims on legal grounds, including some of the same arguments the judge used to throw out the cases once before in 2006. The cases were revived in 2008, after an appeals court rejected Miller’s ruling that they were too entangled with military decision-making to be tried during wartime.

“The defendants have not shown that as a matter of law that the event was both undesired and unexpected, making it a compensable injury,” Miller said of the claims brought on behalf of drivers killed or injured in two convoys sent out on April 9, 2004.

He dismissed the lawsuit by a driver injured the previous day, finding “the defendants were scrambling to react to attacks they feared, but did not expect.”

Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for Houston-based KBR, said the company would have a response soon.

The cases include Fisher v. Halliburton, 05-CV-01731 and Lane v. Halliburton, 06-CV-01971, and Smith-Idol v. Halliburton, 06-CV-01168, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

March 25, 2010 Posted by | KBR, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

IPOA Director: Critics of private contractors “don’t understand what the industry does”

The International Peace Operations Association has an admirable goal in mind, promoting higher standards and requiring ethical operations of their membership.

We support the IPOA and it’s  goals but would like to see some support for the injured employees some of their members have abused.

Senior stability operations figure believes that contractors must endeavour to educate the public on the facts.

Mar 25, 2010 – In recent years, the demand for stability operations has risen sharply, coming from both NATO and many struggling nations. Yet the majority of publicity tends to cast a negative shadow over private contractor involvement in these regions, claiming that governments are faced with a conflict of interests in involving contracting companies in the formation of defence budgets.

Sometime-cynics include David Isenberg of The Huffington Post, who has written extensively on both the pros and cons of the PMC emergence. Yet for vocal opponents like author and activist Naomi Klein, such firms are seen to merely exploit disaster-struck countries for profit. The Facebook group “No Shock Doctrine for Haiti”, based on Klein’s condemnation, has well over 37,000 members.

J.J. Messner, Director of the International Peace Operations Assosciation (IPOA), the umbrella association for the stability operations industry, described this view as a “very unfortunate”

way of seeing the matter.

Speaking to DefenceIQ, Messner spoke of the support that contractors offer in terms of freeing the army to deal with foreign policy affairs and focusing on the suppression of insurgents, actions fundamental to transitioning a region out of warzone status. Likewise, disaster-hit areas can benefit from the speedy action of these companies in the immediate aftermath of the emergency.

“Ultimately what we can see is that – in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti – there was an immense amount of suffering, there was an immense amount of capacity needed at very short notice, and some private contractors were able to provide airlift support, medical support and logistics at very short notice.”

With the resources of the US military already strained across Afghanistan and Iraq, and with this situation coinciding with a period of military downsizing, Messner holds that IPOA’s companies can provide peace-keeping support and expertise that otherwise wouldn’t be there or are not so widely available in non-profit organisations.

He also addressed the misconception that private contractors in conflict zones are dominated by private military companies such as the extremely controversial and former-member Blackwater.

“It becomes abundantly clear with many of the critics of the industry that they really don’t quite understand what the industry does. If you look at the industry as a whole, I think it’s probably fair to say that 90% of the industry concerns itself with logistics and non-security services, whereas the average man on the street will often think it’s all about heavily armed security contractors.”

“Those kinds of perceptions are very important to tackle because – when it comes to a public perception point of view – if you are sending a number of contractors into a particular country, if the public at large believe that those contractors are going to be heavily armed security contractors…their amount of support is probably going to be different than to if they act knew that the vast majority of them are going to be providing services such as logistics, or medical support, or air lift.”

He added that re-balancing the argument for private contractors and making the public aware of the positive aspects of the firms “really is one of the key roles that IPOA has to fill over the years – an educational role”.

As for critics who argue that the actions of contractors need to be transparent, Messner couldn’t agree more.

“You tend to see the criticism focused a lot more on, for example, oversight and accountability, and we would completely agree that those are areas really do need to be addressed and those areas are very important to get right, rather than [debating] the industry’s existence in the first place.
This is a press release that can be read here

March 25, 2010 Posted by | AIG and CNA, Defense Base Act, Private Military Contractors, Private Security Contractor, Wartime Contracting | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

KBR’s Idle Hands in Iraq

The megacontractor’s been making millions from mechanics who put in as little as 43 minutes a month. And as more GIs come home, the waste could get even worse.

By Adam Weinstein -Copy Editor – MotherJones.com

It was just a single contract for a single job on a single base in Iraq. The Department of Defense agreed to pay the megacontractor KBR $5 million a year to repair tactical vehicles, from Humvees to big rigs, at Joint Base Balad, a large airfield and supply center north of Baghdad. Yet according to a new Pentagon report [PDF], what the military got was as many as 144 civilian mechanics, each doing as little as 43 minutes of work a month, with virtually no oversight. The report, issued March 3 by the DOD’s inspector general, found that between late 2008 and mid-2009, KBR performed less than 7 percent of the work it was expected to do, but still got paid in full.

The $4.6 million blown on this particular contract is a relatively small loss considering that in 2009 alone, the government had a blanket deal worth $5 billion with KBR (formerly known as the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root). Just days before the Pentagon released the Balad report, KBR announced it had won a new $2.3 billion-plus, five-year Iraq contract. But the inspector general’s modest investigation offers new insight into just how little KBR delivers and how toothless the Pentagon is to prevent contractor waste. Moreover, the government’s own auditors predict that as the military draws down its forces in Iraq, KBR will keep most of its workforce intact, enabling it to collect $190 million or more in unnecessary expenses. Much of any “peace dividend” from the war’s gradual end—potentially hundreds of billions of dollars—could wind up in the hands of contractors.

On March 29, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting—which Congress set up in early 2007 to investigate waste and corruption in the military private sector—will hold a hearing to examine whether contractors are doing their part to prepare for leaving Iraq. Some commissioners are raring for a showdown with KBR over its drawdown plan—or lack thereof. The commission’s co-chair, former Republican congressman Christopher H. Shays, said in a statement: “Considering that KBR was just awarded a task order—now under protest—that could bring them up to $2.3 billion in new [Iraq-related] revenues, it’s very important that we get a clear picture of the quality of planning and oversight during the Iraq drawdown.”

The Balad report is likely to be a hot potato at the hearing. Commissioner Charles Tiefer tells Mother Jones the report is a “dynamite critique” of the firm’s practices. “The numbers translate into an astonishingly large pool of KBR employees standing around idle and having the government be charged,” he says.

What the DOD investigators found in Balad was astounding. Army rules require that its civilian maintenance employees are actively working 85 to 90 percent of the time they are on the clock. Yet KBR’s own records showed that its workers were only engaged in labor an average of 6.6 percent of the time they were on duty. The DOD ran its own numbers, and its findings were even worse. In September 2008, for example, KBR had 144 maintenance employees at Balad, available to work 16,200 hours. Their actual “utilization rate” was a paltry 0.63 percent—which means that each of the 144 KBR employees averaged about 43 minutes of work for the entire month.

How did such a large bunch of thumb-twiddling mechanics go unnoticed? The Pentagon investigators found that the Army had no system in place to police how much work its contractors were actually doing. Plus, the unit in charge of KBR’s operation at Balad reported that the contractor wouldn’t reveal how many mechanics it employed there “because it believed the information was proprietary.” The investigators (who eventually got the KBR data) note that as of last August, the number of KBR mechanics at Balad has since dropped to 75, but they conclude diplomatically that “opportunities for additional reductions of tactical vehicle field maintenance services at [Balad] may exist, which may provide additional cost savings to DOD.” In other words, the Army should consider sending even more contractors home.

Some in the military appear to accept such waste as a matter of course. Col. Gust Pagonis, an assistant chief of staff for the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, which took over command of Balad last August, responded to the DOD inspector general by explaining that “the contracting of maintenance capabilities, though not efficient, was effective in ensuring units did not experience low readiness rates and being able to perform the mission.” Translation: The KBR contractors were essentially being kept around on reserve, just in case. Tiefer doesn’t buy that argument. “That might justify a limited overcapacity, but nothing approaching KBR’s levels,” he says.

As the military draws down its own numbers in Iraq, that “just in case” fleet shows few signs of going home. By this August, all US combat personnel are slated to be out of Iraq, leaving a force of about 50,000 “combat support” troops. Yet if the DOD’s own optimistic estimates are accurate, there will still be 75,000 contractors in Iraq at the end of summer—or 1.5 contractors for every soldier. KBR had 17,095 employees in Iraq as of last September, but when its subcontractors are included, it oversees as many as 58,000 workers. The firm has promised to reduce its staff in Iraq by 5 percent each quarter, but that may not be fast enough. Last November, April G. Stephenson, the then-head of the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), testified to the contracting commission that KBR could cost the government another $193 million in unnecessary manpower between then and the August 2010 withdrawal date for combat forces. “When the military reduced its troop levels from 160,000 to 130,000—a 19 percent reduction—KBR’s staffing levels remained constant,” she told the commission, adding that KBR had so far refused to share “a detailed, written plan to reduce staffing levels in consonance with the military drawdown.”

She added that the $193 million estimate was “conservative”; if KBR fails to meet its withdrawal goals, the price tag could balloon by hundreds of millions more. “The drawdown in Iraq and these Iraq task orders are going to become a deep pocket for these contractors,” she told the panel. In light of the Balad report, Tiefer cautiously agrees. “If KBR has underutilized rates in many of its operations anywhere near the rates found by the inspector general study…that would support a search for savings on the order of $300 million,” he says.

KBR rejects those assertions. The company has “been working since last year with these organizations in responsibly planning our support to the drawdown of military forces in Iraq,” writes company spokeswoman Heather Browne in an email to Mother Jones.

Federal bean counters are concerned with more than just KBR’s inflated contracts. In fiscal 2009 alone, the DCAA identified $20.4 billion in questionable billing, and another $12.1 billion in unsupported cost estimates, by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, that’s more money than any individual handout to the biggest beneficiaries of the financial bailout.

In October, the Pentagon transferred Stephenson to its payroll department. That move came after the Government Accountability Office complained about auditing irregularities on Stephenson’s watch. GAO even alleged that some DCAA reports had been modified to favor contractors—which suggests that the companies’ waste in Iraq and Afghanistan may be even worse than already known. (Stephenson could not be reached for comment.) But even before her demotion, Stephenson’s agency had little leverage with contractors. All the DCAA can do is make recommendations to an alphabet soup of other Pentagon bureaucracies that routinely insist that contracts and regulations prevent them from playing hardball with contractors and their paychecks. At the November hearing, Shays, the co-chair of the contracting commission, chastised a Defense Contract Management Agency representative for failing to withhold any payments to contractors—even after the DCAA had expressed doubts about the amounts the contractors were charging. “It is simply outrageous that DCMA did not respond to DCAA’s findings and have any withholds,” Shays said. “And it was unfortunate that DCAA did not have a way to see that resolved.”

The DOD’s inertia on contractor accountability is so complete that its agencies can’t say with any certainty how many contractors are currently in Iraq and Afghanistan. One April 2009 estimate put the number at 160,000; a separate DOD study a month earlier said it was 240,000. The dysfunction has angered some Iraq War hawks, like Shays and contracting commission member Dov Zakheim—a Bush-era undersecretary of defense who helped manage the war’s initial finances. Zakheim upbraided several Pentagon officials in that November hearing for not keeping contractors accountable. “We’ve been at war for eight years in Afghanistan, long enough for me to actually start forgetting about what it was like at the beginning, when I was there,” he said. “Eight years in Afghanistan, and we haven’t resolved something like this, which I would have thought is absolutely critical.”

But KBR will be in the hot seat at next week’s hearing—and on the heels of the Balad report, that seat’s now likely to be a lot hotter. “We’re hoping to find out at this hearing how much progress KBR has made toward a viable drawdown plan with realistic assumptions,” Tiefer says, adding: “I’m personally hoping to receive suggestions for how to reform monopoly cost-plus contracts like KBR’s.” Company spokeswoman Browne says KBR is ready to state its case, and is in the process of drafting a response to the inspector general’s report.

For now, however, it’s hard to see what the commission or the federal government can do to derail the KBR gravy train. Bases across Iraq remain dependent on the firm’s contractors, and that dependency is only likely to increase as more troops come home. “In essence…we basically said that KBR is too big to fail,” Shays said last May. “So we are still going to fund them.” click HERE for the original at Mother Jones

See this story with comments at MsSparky

March 25, 2010 Posted by | KBR | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran-Contra operative linked to questionable spy program

March 25, 2010 by Michael Leon ·posted at Veterans Today

From Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon correspondent
Washington (CNN) — A former high-ranking CIA official who was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal has worked on an alleged ad hoc spy program that the Pentagon is investigating, CNN has learned.

Duane “Dewey” Clarridge — who was pardoned for his alleged role in the Reagan-era scandal by President George H. W. Bush in the waning hours of his presidency in 1992 — is using contacts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to obtain information for the Pentagon, according to former government officials familiar with the current program.

They declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Pentagon has launched an assessment of the roles of at least three contractor companies with more than $20 million in contracts, according to Pentagon officials

Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to know if bounds were overstepped.

He needs “a factual baseline from which to determine whether or not systemic problems exist,” and how to fix them if they do, Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday.

The two-week survey will be led by a small team of senior military and Defense Department officials, he said.

The assessment was prompted by an investigation — currently under way — into a program led by Michael Furlong, a Defense Department official who oversaw contracts aimed at gathering information about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The program was meant to be limited to gathering what is known as “open-source information,” in which publicly available facts are gathered from, for example, local media and public events.

Some of the contractors with the program — retired CIA officers and former military commandos — may have instead hired local agents to gather information on the specific locations and movements of particular individuals and passed it along to military officials for possible lethal strikes, according to government officials and private-sector businessmen familiar with the investigation.

Federal laws and regulations generally prohibit contractors from directly engaging in intelligence collection because it is considered a crucial government function.

The Pentagon is seeking to find out both whether the law was violated and whether funds were inappropriately diverted to conduct these alleged operations.

Furlong has denied wrongdoing.

“This is something that I need to know more about, but we do have reviews and investigations going on to find out what the story is here, find out what the facts are, and if it’s necessary to make some changes, I’ll do that,” Gates said Monday.

Documents provided to CNN detail sensitive information that contractors gathered, including word of a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother and Mullah Baradar, a top Taliban leader who was arrested weeks later in Pakistan. At another meeting with Taliban commanders, an audio message from the reclusive leader Mullah Omar was played, in which he directed who would lead operations after a key member was captured. Another document details the comings and goings at a safe house in Kabul, Afghanistan, used by suspected members of the Haqqani insurgent network.

Concern within the Central Intelligence Agency about the contract played a role in prompting the investigation, according to officials.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan, told CNN last week that elements of Furlong’s project were not clear.

“There was ambiguity about how they were going to collect information,” he said, and about whether Afghans were to be used to do the work, and how the information might be used.

“None of us were comfortable with what this contract meant. We wanted to know how they were going to glean information,” Smith said.

Smith said he subsequently terminated Furlong’s effort last year because of his concerns. He estimates $6 million to $7 million of the funds allocated were spent and does not know what happened to the balance of the contract money.

Clarridge, the former CIA official allegedly involved in the ad hoc spy ring, worked for the agency for 33 years, heading the agency’s Latin American and European divisions and setting up its Counterterrorist Center in 1986, according to a Publisher’s Weekly review of his book “A Spy For All Seasons.”

He was indicted in 1991 on federal charges of lying to Congress and the Tower Commission, which investigated the Iran-Contra affair, the review says. Investigators said Clarridge was the man who put then-Marine Col. Oliver North in charge of sending money and weapons to anti-Communist fighters in Nicaragua in the 1980s, in contravention of congressional mandates.

Clarridge always maintained he was innocent, referring to the scandal as “the Iran-Contra nonsense,” Publisher’s Weekly said.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Pentagon, Private Military Contractors | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Military Restructures Afghanistan Police Contract

Blackwater-Linked Army Office Stripped of Control

By Spencer Ackerman 3/25/10  at The Washington Independent

n obscure Army contracting office with ties to the private security firm Blackwater has formally lost control of a lucrative contract to train Afghan police, the Pentagon and U.S. military officials in Afghanistan confirmed to TWI.

The office, known as the Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office or CNTPO, came under criticism from the Government Accountability Office earlier this month for having only a marginal relationship to the training of Afghan police. CNTPO has responsibility for the military’s counternarcotics efforts, not the training of foreign military forces, and only received control over the contract after the U.S. military last year moved to take it away from the State Department and sought to rapidly award the contract to one of the five companies with which it does business — one of which is Blackwater.

That bureaucratic shift prompted a protest from State’s contractor, DynCorp, which stood to lose millions from the switch and argued that a counternarcotics office was an improper choice to award a contract for police training services. On March 15, the Government Accountability Office agreed, formally saying that the military’s solicitations were “outside the scope of [CNTPO’s] existing contracts” according to a top GAO procurement official, Ralph O. White. But GAO also did not formally say that CNTPO had to be stripped of its contract authority, creating confusion over the future of the contract.

According to several officials, the U.S./NATO military command in Afghanistan responsible for training Afghan security forces, known as NTM-A or CSTC-A, have decided keeping CNTPO involved would invite the same complaints that prompted GAO to scotch a contract worth up to $1 billion. “NTM-A/CSTC-A has seen the GAO ruling, is reviewing it and evaluating how to proceed in a manner that most effectively meets legal requirements and advances the key goal of helping to train an effective Afghan National Police Force,” said Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman.

Reached in Kabul for comment, Lt. Col. David Hylton, a spokesman for NTM-A/CSTC-A, confirmed that “we’re reevaluating how to proceed.” Hylton added that every aspect of the contract was up for discussion within the command, and he guessed that no decisions would be made about even how to move forward with the bidding process until mid-April at the earliest.

The contract first garnered attention last month, when CNTPO’s connection to Blackwater appeared in a late-February Politico story. The same day the story ran, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report accusing Blackwater employees of improperly taking hundreds of rifles and pistols for personal use out of a U.S. military weapons depot in Afghanistan intended to supply those very same Afghan policemen.

Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, observed that the military “tried to fit a square peg into a round hole” by giving a counter-narcoterrorism office awarding duties for a police training contract. “The best case scenario now is that this [contract] will operate through an open process that will allow anyone to come to the table,” Amey said.

CNTPO initially got the contract because its existing relationships with the five security contractors meant that it could rapidly award a bid for a mission identified by the military as vital to the U.S. war effort, a process that entailed restricting the eligible pool of bidders. “If the government has an immediate need, it could conduct a limited competition with vendors with proven capabilities” to meet the contract requirements, Amey said.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has identified that need as immediate. “There’s a shortage of trainers,” McChrystal said at a press briefing on March 17. “And we have been very unequivocal in our statement of that, both to Washington, D.C., and of course, more appropriately, to NATO.”

DynCorp’s old contract with the State Department expires in August. Hylton said NTM-A/CSTC-A had not yet made a decision on whether to seek a temporary extension of DynCorp’s contract. Col. John Ferrari, a senior officer in the training command’s programs directorate, was in charge of the decision-making process for the revised contract.

A spokesman for DynCorp, Jason Rossbach, said that the company — which the Iraq inspector general has criticized, along with the State Department, for negligent book-keeping over the police-training contract — awaited the outcome of NTM-A/CSTC-A’s contract restructuring. “We’re interested in bidding, whatever the government decides to do,” Rossbach said.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Blackwater, Civilian Police, DynCorp, Wartime Contracting | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Has Health Care Bickering Blocked Afghan Police Training Inquiry?

T Christian Miller at ProPublica

Today at 2:30 p.m., Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was supposed to hold a hearing [1] on the U.S. effort to train Afghanistan’s police force. This is no small thing. Not only has the Obama administration made training Afghan cops a key foreign policy goal for getting American soldiers out of the country, but the U.S. has already spent $6 billion on the training.

And as detailed in a joint story [2] by ProPublica [2] and Newsweek [3] on the cover of this week’s magazine, the mission has been a disaster. Afghan cops have been accused of corruption, rape and arms sales to the Taliban. State and Defense department officials have continually squabbled over how best to train them. The chief contractor doing the training, DynCorp International, has been embroiled in a contract protest that has delayed attempts to fix the flailing system.

All of which, you’d think, would make Congress want to ask: What’s up? Instead, McCaskill’s Oversight Committee hearing was suddenly cancelled just hours before it was to start. McCaskill took to the floor of the Senate [4] to accuse Republicans of killing the meeting. Senate rules forbid most types of hearings when the Senate has been in session a certain number of hours or after 2 p.m., but those rules are traditionally waived by consensus of both parties. Not anymore, McCaskill said, accusing the Republicans of a “new low of obstructionism.”

“Why in the world are we not able to ask questions at a hearing in a few minutes as to why the police training is not going well in Afghanistan and how we can do better. Our men and women are over there and they are at risk if we don’t get this right,” McCaskill said.

“I had to call these witnesses and say, ‘Go home because the Republicans won’t let us have a hearing?’ Someobdy’s got to explain this to me,” she said.

Calls to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office went unanswered. McCaskill has rescheduled the hearing for April.  Read the Original Story here

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Blackwater, Civilian Police, DynCorp | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment