Tuesday 26 May 2009

Your money. Safe in their hands?

When the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issued its first report last week, it noted that the military command overseeing $15bn in US military aid cannot be sure the money is being managed effectively.
In fact, the Combined Security Transition Command- Afghanistan (CSTC-A) is not based in Afghanistan at all, but in Maryland - nine time zones away. At the time of the inspection, four months ago, the CSTC-A had no-one working in Afghanistan and just one technical representative (from another company) actually located in Afghanistan.
In other words, as was the case in Iraq, when billions of dollars were left unaccounted for, no-one appears to be watching out for the US taxpayer. Huge contracts are being let with little supervision.
To make the point clearly, the Special Inspector decided to look at one contract in particular - a $404 million contract to an unnamed company to train the Afghan Army. This is what their report says:

"We found that assigning one contracting officer's representative in the field did not provide the degree of oversight that is needed to ensure that funds are used as intended. The person assigned this duty has limited contracting experience and is on a six-month assignment to Afghanistan. According to CSTC-A, this person has taken the required contractor officer's representative training, but CSTC-A acknowledged that additional training is needed. This assigned contracting officer's representative told us that visits to training sites are not performed; therefore contractor performance is not effectively monitored. Because of other duties, this official does not have time to make field visits. In addition, because some of the training sites are located far from Kabul, availability of transportation resources is also a factor that makes it difficult to perform field visits to oversee contractor performance."

It did not take long to find out that the unnamed company in receipt of an unsupervised mult-million dollar contract was Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI), a Virginia-based company formed in 1987 by eight former senior military officers, including former Army Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Carl Vuono. Today it has more than 3,000 employees in 40 countries. In 2000 it was taken over by defence contracting giant L3 Communications.
MPRI is no stranger to controversy. In 2004 The Center for Public Integrity revealed that MPRI wrote the Pentagon manual for contractors on the battlefield. They noted:
"Since 1997, Military Professional Resources Inc., which has two contracts worth a total of $2.6 million related to reconstruction in Iraq, has also produced Field Manual 100-21, also known as Contractors on the Battlefield. The manual "established a doctrinal basis directed towards acquiring and managing contractors as an additional resource in support of the full range of military operations", according to the company's website."
In the same year MPRI was hired by the Pentagon to work with the armed forces and national police in Colombia to teach them psychological operations, training, logistics, intelligence and personnel management. After a year Colombian defence officials denounced them as useless, noting that no-one on the company's staff spoke Spanish. The contract was not renewed, although the Pentagon publicly backed the company.
Further information on MPRI, particularly that related to Operation Storm in Croatia in August 1995, where the company was accused of having trained Croatian soldiers who carried out one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing during the Balkan War, can easily be found on the internet.
Why is the military unable to supervise its own contractors? Answers on the back of a dollar bill, please.

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