Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

Let’s Tell It Like It Is, IPOA Annual Summit 2010

By David Isenberg at Huffington Post

I have, on occasion, in the past been critical of IPOA (formerly the International Peace Operations Association and now the Association of the Stability Operations Industry), the Washington, DC-based trade association for private military and security contractors. So it is only fair to mention them when they do something inarguably right.

That something was their three day 2010 Annual Summit that took place earlier this week.

To go to the event and listen to the panels on such subjects as international standards and accountability, logistics and support in contingency operations, regulatory evolutions in the industry was to see both private companies and public officials seriously grappling with issues of oversight and accountability at a practical, not a rhetorical, level.

There was some serious reflection going on. At the beginning of the first day Chris Taylor, CEO of Mission Essential Personnel, an IPOA member company, and a main sponsor of the summit, said the following in his opening remarks:

All of us have been asked to testify or to speak about a great many issues. And deservedly so. Spending the taxpayer’s money is an important task that comes with a great responsibility [Note: Let’s call this the Peter Parker principle: with big contracts comes big responsibility] But one of the things that we can’t let it do is force the industry to be transactional instead of transformational. We do bring a certain value to the government and to taxpayers. Because of the scrutiny I don’t believe that – I think it can actually be our finest hour for the industry; not a reason to hunker down and not be cooperative, not be forthcoming with people who may have questions about what it is that we do. As a matter of fact I think it should be quite the opposite. I think it should be an opportunity for us to tell it like it is; to inform people of the facts about our abilities, about the complexities of working in contingency operations, and working in development operations, and working in security operations. I don’t think we should, we shouldn’t miss that opportunity whatsoever. We certainly should not shy away from it.
I would encourage all of us to ask tough questions of each other first…

To me that reflects the emergence of a mindset that is self-confident but not boastful, proud of its accomplishments but mature enough to understand that legitimate questions can be raised about their operations.

It is hard to imagine a CEO of a traditional military-industrial company, such as Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman, saying something similar.

For those people who think that PMC or the U.S. government don’t take seriously issues of oversight and accountability they should view the video of the panel on international standards and accountability.

I recorded it with a Flip camcorder and you can watch the segments on my YouTube page. I had to break them up due to Youtube’s size limit on what can be uploaded at one time but you can view them here.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

One of the more interesting parts of that panel was the discussion of the forthcoming International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers. Among other things it:

– Sets out clear obligations and operational standards for PSCs based on international human rights standards

– Launches a process to establish effective oversight and compliance mechanisms.

There will be a high-level signing ceremony for it on 9 November 2010 in
Geneva, Switzerland. You can find the code online here .

As IPOA taped the entire summit it will, hopefully, transcribe and post online the proceedings as soon as possible. Hint, hint.

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Contractor Oversight, Mission Essential Personnel, Wartime Contracting | , , , , | Leave a comment

New Bill Cracks Down on Foreign Bribery

Project on Government Oversight   Sept 17, 2010

This week, the House overwhelmingly passed the Overseas Contractor Reform Act (H.R. 5366). The bill, sponsored by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, would propose debarment for companies and individuals who violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits the payment of bribes to foreign officials.

If this legislation becomes law, it would make the FCPA, which is already highly despised by some in the business community, even more terrifying to federal contractors, as POGO learned yesterday at a legal conference on the FCPA sponsored by the International Peace Operations Association, a private security company trade association.

According to Welch’s legislation, the proposal for debarment would be issued within 30 days after a “final judgment” of a violation, which means when all appeals have been exhausted or the deadline to file an appeal has passed. In theory, this means that a contractor found guilty of violating the FCPA could continue receiving new contracts for many years while its case slowly makes its way through the lengthy appeals process. Furthermore, even when a final judgment is issued, the OCRA allows the head of a federal agency to waive the proposed debarment.

And how would officials in charge of debarment know when a final judgment has been issued so that they can act within that relatively brief 30-day time frame? Somehow, all suspension and debarment officers throughout the government would have to be quickly notified when final judgments in FCPA cases involving federal contractors and grantees have been issued.

Welch says his motivation for the bill came from reading this New York Times story from last November alleging that Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, had paid $1 million in bribes to Iraqi officials after the tragic incident in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in September 2007, when Blackwater guards opened fire on Iraqi civilians. (Of course, since Xe has not yet been found guilty of a FCPA violation, let alone exhausted all of its appeals, the OCRA would allow Xe to continue bidding on and receiving new contracts.)

There have been several other big FCPA cases in recent years: the Oil-For-Food prosecutions of Chevron and Textron, the Nigeria bribery incident involving KBR and Halliburton, and BAE Systems’ and Daimler AG’s multi-million dollar settlements of foreign bribery allegations. Presumably, since all of the aforementioned cases have been resolved and none of those companies have filed appeals (as far as we know), the OCRA would have required the government to propose debarment for each of those companies—unless the government issued a waiver. In fact, the Daimler case, which was resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement under which the Department of Justice promised to “cooperate with” Daimler in suspension and debarment proceedings (see paragraph 21 on page 14 of the agreement), might have resulted in the granting of a waiver, which must be reported to Congress by the head of the agency within 30 days from the date of the waiver, along with an accompanying justification.

Lawyers who participated in yesterday’s International Peace Operations Associations conference pointed out various definitional problems in the OCRA. For example, one former federal prosecutor observed that the OCRA does not define what constitutes a “finding” of a violation. Would a deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreement constitute a “finding”?

It’s not clear why we even need the OCRA. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) already makes bribery a debarrable offense. Other catch-all provisions in that section (a “criminal offense in connection with obtaining; attempting to obtain; or performing a public contract or subcontract,” a “commission of any other offense indicating a lack of business integrity or business honesty” and “any other cause of so serious or compelling a nature that it affects the present responsibility of the contractor or subcontractor”) could also apply. With its “final judgment” provision, the OCRA could hinder the government’s power to suspend or debar contractors under the FAR.

When it comes to holding contractors accountable, the problem isn’t that the government lacks the tools. The problem is the government is not effectively using the tools it already has. As Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., recently noted, suspensions and debarments have been steadily decreasing over the last five years, even though incidents of contractor misconduct—he specifically mentioned violations of the FCPA as one example—are increasing.

September 20, 2010 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Contractor Oversight | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Security contractors could face new rules

Roxanna Tiron at The Hill

House defense authorizers are pressing ahead with efforts to weed out fraud, waste and performance debacles that have plagued private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee are expected to approve several provisions in the 2011 defense authorization bill that would establish standards for how private security contractors would win Pentagon business.

Private security contractors have lobbied for the changes, arguing that higher standards and more oversight would ensure that contracts go to legitimate companies. The Armed Services Readiness subcommittee already vetted the provisions under consideration.

House lawmakers are trying to establish a third-party certification process to determine whether private security contractors should be eligible for Pentagon contracts. Defense authorizers are requiring the Defense secretary to establish a third-party certification process for “specified operational and business practice standards to which private security contractors must adhere” as a condition of being selected as contractors.

It has not yet been determined whom the “third party” issuing the certifications would be, but the provisions aim to establish a baseline for acceptable contractor performance, industry officials said.

It would ensure that “everybody is up to the same standard,” said Doug Brooks, the president of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), which represents the Association of the Stability Operations Industry and has advocated for the provision. “We support the concept that somebody would check on how these companies do everything they are supposed to.”

Private security contractors have tried to convince lawmakers to support contracts that offer the best value rather than just the lowest price. As a result, defense authorizers are seeking to establish a pilot program within the Pentagon that would implement best-value standards for private security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The contracts awarded under the pilot program would continue until they are supposed to expire even if the pilot program is terminated, according to language in the defense authorization bill awaiting a full committee vote. The Defense secretary has to provide to the committee each Jan. 15 for three years a report identifying the contracts awarded under the pilot program, including the consideration that led to the award of the contract.

“The best-value language would avoid the race to the bottom,” said Jeff Green, who lobbies for IPOA.

Avoiding contracts that are awarded solely on the lowest-cost criterion would go to the heart of the private security industry’s efforts to preserve good standing. Lowest bidders often trim “some of the ethical aspects of their operations to save money,” said IPOA’s Brooks.

Companies could cut their training standards or the vetting of their own employees to keep costs low, explained Brooks.

“In the long run it will provide enormous value for U.S. taxpayers,” Brooks said. The best-value concept “focuses more on getting the mission done right rather than simply saving money.”  Read the full story here

May 18, 2010 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Contractor Oversight, Private Military Contractors, Private Security Contractor, Wartime Contracting | , , , , , , | 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