Project on Government Oversight May 7, 2012
For Vinnie Tuivaga, the offer was the answer to a prayer: A job in a luxury hotel in Dubai–the so-called Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf–making five times what she was earning as a hair stylist in her native Fiji.
She jumped at the chance, even if it meant paying an upfront commission to the recruiter.
You probably know how this story is going to end. There was no high-paying job, luxury location or easy work.
Tuivaga and other Fijians ended up in Iraq where they lived in shipping containers and existed in what amounted to indentured servitude.
Journalist Sarah Stillman told Tuivaga’s story and that of tens of thousands of other foreign workers in acute detail almost a year ago in her New Yorker piece, “The Invisible Army.”
In some cases, Stillman found more severe abuses and more squalid living conditions than what Tuivaga and her fellow Fijians experienced.
But like Tuivaga, thousands of foreign nationals in the U.S. government’s invisible army ended up in Iraq and Afghanistan war zones because they fell victim to human traffickers.
Let that sink in.
This human trafficking pipeline wasn’t benefitting some shadowy war lord or oppressive regime. No, these are workers who were feeding, cleaning up after, and providing logistical support for U.S. troops—the standard-bearers of the free and democratic world.
In its final report to Congress last year, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said it had uncovered evidence of human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistan by labor brokers and subcontractors. Commissioner Dov Zakheim later told a Senate panel that the Commission had only scratched the surface of the problem. He called it the “tip of the iceberg.”
In essence, despite a 2002 presidential directive that set a “zero tolerance” on human trafficking, modern-day slavers have been operating with impunity under the aegis of the U.S. government.
Nick Schwellenbach, who until last month was the director of investigations at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and author David Isenberg also wrote about the conditions some of these foreign workers endured in Iraq.
Nick and David uncovered documents that showed how one U.S. contractor—in this case KBR—was well aware that one of its subcontractors, Najlaa International Catering Services, was involved in trafficking abuses.
A bipartisan group of members from the House and Senate proposed legislation on Monday that seeks to crack down on human trafficking by contractors that the U.S. military hires for work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act is a reaction to reports from the Commission on Wartime Contracting and the inspectors general of the Defense and State departments that overseas contractors are known to engage in practices that are illegal under U.S. employee rights standards. These include seizing workers’ passports to trap them at a work site, lying about compensation, engaging in sexual abuse and generally keeping workers in a state of indentured servitude.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would help improve the treatment of third-country workers who are lured to work in Iraq and Afghanistan only to be defrauded or enslaved.
“Modern-day slavery by government contractors — unknowingly funded by American taxpayers — is unconscionable and intolerable,” Blumenthal said. “Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and ineffective, failing to prevent or punish abuses
Blumenthal’s bill, S. 2234, is also co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
The House companion bill, H.R. 4259, was sponsored by Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and is co-sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.).
Issa’s committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., with Blumenthal and Portman expected to testify on the bill at that time
Government Executive March 1, 2012
Citing massive problems with waste and fraud, lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation to improve oversight of wartime contract spending.
Co-authored by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Jim Webb, D-Va., the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act would overhaul the federal government’s planning, management and oversight of contract spending in areas of conflict.
In August 2011, the independent, bipartisan Wartime Contracting Commission reported that as a result of poor procurement oversight, federal agencies wasted as much as $60 billion of the more than $205 billion spent on private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCaskill and Webb first introduced the legislation to create the commission in 2007, using as their model the Truman Committee, which investigated waste and fraud during World War II.
Thursday’s legislation focuses on four areas of wartime contracting: elevating oversight responsibility, requiring the government to identify how it will pay for overseas military operations, increasing transparency and competition, and instituting additional provisions for contractor accountability. It specifically requires the Defense and State departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development to exercise more authority and responsibility over the contractors they work with.
“You can bet that contractors who’ve made billions off of U.S. taxpayers aren’t excited about a crackdown,” McCaskill said in a statement. “But with the roadmap provided by the commission report, we can change the way our government contracts during wartime and make sure these failures are never repeated.”
Webb, former secretary of the Navy, stated the bill recognizes the work of support contractors and the “necessity to improve government management and accountability in the contracting process that resulted in unacceptable costs, excessive waste and substandard performance in far too many areas.”
Scott Amey, general counsel to the Project on Government Oversight praised the bill saying, “No matter the policy or ideological reasons for hiring wartime contractors, this bill provides an improved set of checks and balances that will save taxpayers billions.”
Jake Wiens – (POGO) – November 10, 2011 – In an encouraging development, the two Senators—Jim Webb (D-VA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO)—responsible for introducing legislation that created the Commission on Wartime Contracting sent a letter yesterday which called on the Archivist to “take immediate steps” to publicly disclose the Commission’s records, which had been sealed for 20 years. In a recent blog post, POGO called on the Congress to take action to lift this seal.
The full text of the letter is below:
November 7, 2011
Dear Mr. Ferriero:
We are writing to request that you take immediate steps to publicly release the permanent records of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (the Commission), consistent with your authority under the law.
On September 30, 2011, the Commission terminated operations pursuant to statute and forwarded to the National Archives and Records Administration all records within its control not previously released to the public. In its letter of September 9, 2011, the Commission encouraged you to review nonpublic records for public release following a closure period of 20 years.
We learned of this development after the fact. The Commission did not seek the advice or involvement of appropriate congressional committees or staff in formulating its recommendation to you. As the two original cosponsors of the legislation creating the Commission in 2008, we are troubled by this lengthy and excessive delay in making the Commission’s records available to the public. We ask that the National Archives make a full disclosure of the Commission’s files and records as quickly as possible, consistent with protections for privacy, proprietary information, and other applicable laws.
The importance of public disclosure relates directly to the Commission’s original legislative mandate—to assess contingency contracting for reconstruction, logistics, and security functions; to examine the extent of waste, fraud, and abuse; and to improve the structure, policies, and resources for managing the contracting process and contractors. The Commission’s own work stressed the importance of increasing transparency and accountability for contracting operations.
Much like the World War II-era Truman Committee it was patterned after, the Commission performed a critical “watchdog” role during its three-year existence. The appropriate committees of Congress are addressing the many constructive findings and recommendations contained in the Commission’s two interim reports and final report. Of note, the Commission concluded that at least $31 billion, and possibly as much as $60 billion, has been lost to contract waste and fraud during U.S. contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The enduring importance of the Commission’s work, however, did not end when it terminated its operations five weeks ago. Commission records constitute a very important source of reference material for the public at large, journalists, professional associations, academicians, historians, and others. Simply stated, we need to live in the light. Sealing records for 20 years is inconsistent with the goals we established for the Commission when Congress acted to create the Commission three years ago.
More timely, accurate, and substantial disclosure of the nonpublic materials provided by the Commission will help to achieve the transparency that the American taxpayer deserves. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter and look forward to your response at the earliest convenience.
Claire McCaskill Jim Webb
United States Senator United States Senator
By NEIL GORDON at POGO Oct 12, 2011
The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) may be history, but the need for a contingency operations watchdog of the CWC’s caliber will never go away. In fact, just as the CWC was closing up shop last week, the State Department Inspector General released a report finding problems on a $12 million contract in Afghanistan.
The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) awarded a contract to DynCorp International to provide operations and maintenance support services at Camp Falcon in Kabul, Afghanistan. Under the contract, DynCorp provides almost everything needed to sustain the camp, including food, laundry and medical services, pest control, electric power generation, sewage and sanitation, and security. While the Inspector General determined that, in general, DynCorp “adequately” operates and maintains the camp, the report found weaknesses in DynCorp’s performance of food, fuel operations, and static security guard services.
First, the report found that INL overpaid DynCorp as much as $940,000 for meals. Although DynCorp’s cost proposal to INL established a daily rate per person for meals, the subcontractor charged DynCorp per meal rather than per person. DynCorp, in turn, invoiced INL at the higher per meal rate. The overcharges were caused in part by INL’s two in-country contracting officers, who were “spread too thinly” to be able to adequately review and approve all purchases.
Second, the report found that DynCorp could not verify that Camp Falcon receives the correct amount of diesel fuel for its electric generators or determine how much fuel is used at the camp. DynCorp does not maintain records for the amount of fuel pumped in and consumed. Not only does this increase the risk to the government of overpayment and waste, not knowing the amount of fuel on hand could put camp operations at risk if generators unexpectedly run out of fuel. The report notes that DynCorp does not plan to change the current fuel delivery process.
Finally, while DynCorp’s static guard force has been generally effective in ensuring the safety of the camp’s approximately 1,000 residents, the report found that guards did not have the required English language proficiency and worked an excessive number of hours without a break. All of the guards are third-country nationals, yet DynCorp failed to verify their English proficiency. Although guards are supposed to work 6 days per week, the report found guards working 14 days in a row for as many as 24 consecutive pay periods. The report notes that static guard personnel continue to work this grueling schedule. It is for these reasons that POGO has long been concerned about the use of contractor security guards in war zones.
DynCorp, one of the three primary LOGCAP IV contractors in Afghanistan, is currently the 32nd largest contractor in POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database. It has 8 instances of misconduct (3 of which involve allegations of overcharging the government) and $19.5 million in penalties. In January, it was reported that DynCorp violated security procedures at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan by escorting undocumented foreign laborers onto the base. Around that time, POGO had obtained a DynCorp security incident report documenting that several third-country nationals had gained access to Kandahar Airfield through questionable circumstances. In April, DynCorp paid $7.7 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit alleging it defrauded the government on a contract to provide civilian police training in Iraq
Corporate Whistle Blower Center Urges U.S. Contractor Employees in Afghanistan and Iraq to Step Forward for Huge Rewards if They Can Prove Massive Fraud
Press Release September 6, 2011
The Corporate Whistle Blower Center is urging employees of major U.S. federal contractors, or subcontractors, that have been defrauding the US taxpayer in Afghanistan, or Iraq to step forward, for what could be enormous rewards, provided they can prove it. An independent panel investigating wartime spending estimates that as much as $60 billion has been lost to waste and fraud over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its final report to Congress, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said the figure could grow larger as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes and Iraq and Afghanistan are unable to sustain the schools, medical clinics, roads and power plants already built with American tax dollars. The Corporate Whistle Blower Center says, “In actuality we are pretty sure in many cases the schools, power plants, or medical clinics were never completed, and in other instances we know federal subcontractors gouged the U.S. government, and the taxpayers on everything from over inflated fuel, or food prices, to pretty much you name it. As long as you can prove it, and the amount exceeds two million dollars, there can be huge rewards for this type of information, as long as its substantial proof, and credible. If you possess this type of information please call us at 866-714-6466, because we would welcome the chance to explain the federal whistleblower reward programs to you.”
Commission on Wartime Contracting Release Final Report to Congress
- Pegs waste, fraud in Iraq, Afghanistan at >$30 billion
- Sees threat of more waste in unsustainable projects
- Faults both government officials and contractors
- Offers 15 recommendations for contracting reform
As much as $60 billion intended for financing U.S. wars Iraq and Afghanistan has been lost to waste and fraud over the past decade through lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and payoffs to warlords and insurgents, an independent panel investigating U.S. wartime spending estimates.
In its final report to Congress, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said the figure could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes, leaving both countries to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American tax dollars.
Much of the waste and fraud could have been avoided with better planning and more aggressive oversight, the commission said. To avoid repeating the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, government agencies should overhaul the way they award and manage contracts in war zones, the commission recommended.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the commission’s 240-page report in advance of its scheduled public release on Wednesday.
Created by Congress in 2008, the eight-member commission held more than two dozen hearings, interviewed hundreds of military and civilian officials and traveled multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. The panel’s final report is the most comprehensive examination so far of the U.S. dependence on contractors and the government’s ability to manage them in combat areas.
The commission said calculating the amount lost through waste and fraud is difficult because there is no commonly accepted methodology for doing so. Using information it has gathered over the past three years, however, the commission said at least $31 billion has been lost and the total could be as high as $60 billion. The commission called the estimate “conservative.”
Seeking Sustainability for US Projects in Iraq and Afghanistan
Sustainability: Hidden Costs Risk New Waste
Preparations for ending US Military presence and contracting activities in Iraq and Afghanistan must include action to avoid waste from host nation’s inability to operate and maintain projects and programs.
Charley Keyes CNN Washington June 6, 2011
Commission on Wartime Contracting, has questioned whether the State Department is prepared to continue its work in Iraq, and protect American diplomats, once the U.S. military withdraws, now set for the end of this year.
“Our concerns remain very much alive,” the commission’s co-chairman, Christopher Shays, said in his opening statement.
Shays also focused on what he said was State Department refusal to document its rationale for not taking action against contractors officially recommended for suspension or disbarment.
That response approaches the borderline of government negligence,” Shays said.
The sole witness appearing before the panel was a senior State Department official, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. He described how the department has increased its oversight of contractors. “We fully understand that we still have challenges ahead as we carry out our diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations where we rely on contingency contracting,” Kennedy said. “But we believe we have instituted a sound foundation to carry us forward.”
Monday’s hearing is the latest in a steady drumbeat of criticism of the department’s warzone operations. The State Department Inspector General last week reported that for Iraq, “several key decisions have not been made, some plans cannot be finalized and progress is slipping in a number of areas.”
The Inspector General report said that security concerns and poor contractor performance are major hindrances to the completion of 5,405 projects valued at more than $15 billion.
And a report from the Commission of Wartime Contracting, released on Friday, said billions of dollars of training programs and public works projects — funded by American taxpayers — could be wasted in both Iraq and Afghanistan because the host governments don’t have the trained staff or money to sustain them when the U.S. departs.
A key question raised in the hearing is whether private security contractors can provide adequate protection to U.S. diplomats in Iraq now handled by the U.S. military.
Kennedy said the Pentagon would provide the State Department with more than $200 million of equipment, including 60 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs).
But the State Department will not have so-called counter-battery weapons systems that hone in on where firing is coming from and automatically fires back.
Shays said at no other time have American diplomats been asked to work in such dangerous circumstances. “Host governments cannot provide effective, customary security, there are no front lines and large terrorist organizations are trying to kill our people and anyone who works with them,” Shays said.
“I’ll say it, because it’s true. If a few contractors get killed nobody seems to care,” he said. “We’ve over-relied on contractors because they’re, like, free.” Christopher Shays April 25, 2011
By Matthew Weigelt
How vital are contractors to U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan?
A former senior Defense Department official said April 25 contractor employees, who encompass half of the workers overseas, are at least worth a notice from the government when they are killed during their work in contingency operations.
DOD sends out multiple notices each day about military casualties, particularly in war zones in southwest Asia. The announcements note the soldier’s age, hometown, rank and battalion. They also say in very general terms how the solider died.
Meanwhile, contractors are seen as expendable or of little consequence, although they are vital to fulfilling operations, said Jacques Gansler, formerly undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology. He made the comment to the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. DOD operations wouldn’t succeed without contractors, he said..
“Last week by coincidence I talked with the Department of Defense person who publishes the weekly listing of people killed, and I insisted that they also list the contractors,” he said, adding that more contractors have died often times than people in uniform.
Contractors are critical to the government’s success in contingency operations yet they’re undervalued despite being half of the total workforce and the crutch on which the government rests.
Gansler, who led the Commission on Army Acquisition and Program Management in Expeditionary Operations and is now with the University of Maryland’s Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, said language matters in how contractors are described in publications and reports — or the lack of any mention — from the government.
If contractors are depicted only as the default option, they will continue to be cast in the same light, he said.
Christopher Shays, co-chairman of the commission and former House member, agreed with that view of contractors.
“I’ll say it, because it’s true. If a few contractors get killed nobody seems to care,” he said. “We’ve over-relied on contractors because they’re, like, free.”
Does the government — particularly DOD — need to give more attention to the deaths of contractors in combat zones? What do you think? Please go to the original post and leave your comments
by Robert Brodsky at Government Executive March 28, 2011
Mandatory suspension or debarment of indicted contractors could have a “chilling effect” on contractor relations, the Defense Department’s top acquisition official told the Commission on Wartime Contracting on Monday.
In February, the congressionally chartered commission released an interim report on how the department could reduce waste, fraud and abuse through enhanced oversight and improved deployment of government resources in contingency contracting.
The report offered 32 specific legislative, regulatory and policy proposals, including limiting the government’s reliance on armed private security contractors. The commission’s final report is due out in July and likely will be considered by Congress for possible legislation.
DynCorp International Inc., the largest U.S. contractor in Afghanistan, was warned by Pentagon officials in January that it is failing to adequately inspect and repair in a timely manner potential electrical hazards at U.S. bases, according to a document.
DynCorp also filed reports indicating that it fully completed repair work on potential life, health or safety electrical problems “even though parts are on order and the work is not complete,” Lieutenant Colonel David Schoolcraft, a military contracting officer, wrote to DynCorp on Jan. 7 in a formal “Letter of Concern.”
The Pentagon’s contract oversight agencies have increased their scrutiny of issues related to electrical wiring at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan after 18 troops were electrocuted in Iraq either in accidents or in connection with faulty construction or grounding of equipment.
There is no indication that military personnel have been electrocuted in Afghanistan. DynCorp management, in a Jan. 31 response, outlined the company’s plans to address the issues. The warning to DynCorp may be highlighted today during a hearing of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting.
Federal agencies are inconsistently entering mandatory reports on contractors’ past performance in a governmentwide database, limiting the information available to procurement officials issuing multimillion-dollar wartime awards, witnesses told a panel on Monday.
According to testimony before the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting, agencies are recording data in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System and Past Performance Information Retrieval System infrequently and in an ad hoc manner. The panel also heard complaints that agencies have not devoted enough resources and attention to their offices for suspending and debarring problem contractors from future work.
“If past-performance information isn’t recorded in the federal database, then there’s no shared, official record to consider in awarding new contracts,” said Christopher Shays, commission co-chairman and a former Connecticut Republican representative. “And if suspensions and debarments are impeded by bureaucratic decisions or inertia, then companies that have committed fraud may continue receiving taxpayer funds. In either case, untrustworthy contractors can continue profiting from government work, responsible businesses may be denied opportunities, and costs to taxpayers can climb.” Please read the entire story here
Commission on Wartime Contracting