Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

Whistleblower Claims Many U.S. Interpreters Can’t Speak Afghan Languages

Says Translators Failed Language Tests, Were Still Embedded With US Troops In Afghanistan

By MATTHEW MOSK, BRIAN ROSS and JOSEPH RHEE at ABC News

More than one quarter of the translators working alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan failed language proficiency exams but were sent onto the battlefield anyway, according to a former employee of the company that holds contracts worth up to $1.4 billion to supply interpreters to the U.S. Army.

“I determined that someone — and I didn’t know [who] at that time — was changing the grades from blanks or zeros to passing grades,” said Paul Funk, who used to oversee the screening of Afghan linguists for the Columbus, Ohio-based contractor, Mission Essential Personnel. “Many who failed were marked as being passed.”

After being asked about the allegations, U.S. Army officials confirmed to ABC News they are investigating the company.

Funk outlined his claims in a whistleblower lawsuit unsealed earlier this year against Mission Essential Personnel, saying the company turned a blind eye to cheating on language exams taken over the phone and hired applicants even though they failed to meet the language standards set by the Army and spelled out in the company’s contract. He alleges that 28 percent of the linguists hired between November 2007 and June 2008 failed to meet the government’s language requirements. The company has contested those claims in court, and this week rejected them as false in an interview with ABC News.

Civilian translators have for nearly a decade been playing a crucial if unsung role in the Afghanistan war, embedding with troops as they have moved through the countryside, helping soldiers gather information from local villagers, and attempting to spread the message of security, moderation and peace that undergirds the U.S. presence there. Some Afghan veterans have rated the value of a skilled interpreter as equal to that of a working weapon or sturdy body armor.

But a former top screener of translators heading to Afghanistan tells ABC News in an exclusive interview that will air tonight on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline that he believes many of the translators currently in the field cannot perform their function.

Please read the entire story here

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Oversight, Mission Essential Personnel, Pentagon, Safety and Security Issues, Whistleblower | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Auditing Mission Essential Personnel

CorpWatch Pratap Chatterjee

In September 2007 the U.S. Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) awarded Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) a five-year-contract worth up to $414 million to provide 1,691 translators in Afghanistan. MEP was a start-up company created by three men, including Chad Monnin, a U.S. Army Special Forces reservist who was injured in a parachute accident. (Procurement rules give preference to companies owned by injured veterans, even if they have no prior experience.)

When the Obama administration decided to expand the war in Afghanistan last year, MEP quickly hit the ceiling of what it could bill. On May 10, INSCOM gave MEP a $679 million extension without bothering to put it up for competitive bid. MEP will also get a share of the Intelligence Support Services Omnibus III contract, a five-year contract, with a ceiling of $492 million, announced on August 10, 2010.

The only two other contractors that have held multi-billion dollar contracts to supply translators to soldiers and diplomats in the Global War on Terror — L-3/Titan and Global Linguist Services — have both been investigated for alleged overcharging, suggesting that this type of work falls in the high risk category of government spending.

Yet DCAA failed to conduct a full business systems audit for MEP. Concerned about DCAA’s failure, Christopher Shays, one of the co-chairs of the Commission on Wartime Contracting told MEP CEO Chris Taylor: “You don’t have to compete for it, and you, whatever your costs are, you get something plus, and you haven’t had any audits.” Shays assured MEP that he was not suggesting that the company had done anything wrong, re-iterating that the commission considered MEP a “a great American success story.”

“We currently have DCAA auditors on our property in Columbus, Ohio, working through any number of audit issues. But we welcome it,” Taylor told the commission. “We are current on our 2008 and 2009 incurred-cost submissions,” he added, referring to the invoices that the company sends INSCOM for payment.

DCAA Director Patrick Fitzgerald told the hearing that the problem was that the contract grew quicker than expected. “Are we behind the curve? Yes. We should have been in there quicker,” he told commissioners. “Our experience has shown that when contractors grow that fast, the procedures, processes, and systems have trouble keeping up with that growth, increases the risk to the U.S. government.”

When asked to respond the charges leveled at DCAA at the hearing, a Pentagon spokesperson emailed the following statement to CorpWatch: “We agreed with the commission that additional resources were required at MEP and have worked to ensure that additional DCAA assets are directed to MEP.” The spokesperson estimated that it will complete “much of the critical audit work needed to assess MEP’s business systems within the next six months.”

See Also

Inside the No Bid Contract for Iraqi Interpreters

Meet the men who help US and NATO troops communicate their aims in Afghanistan — and in doing so risk their lives.

Lost in Limbo: Injured Afghan Translators Struggle to Survive

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties, Defense Base Act, Iraq, Mission Essential Personnel, Private Military Contractors | , , | 2 Comments