US Embassy Kabul: Pogo Story Day 3

Philip J. Crowley did the Daily Press Briefing on September 3, 2009. The POGO story continues. Below is the summary of the DPB:

AFGHANISTAN

  • ArmorGroup investigation is ongoing; first investigator from DC has arrived in Kabul
  • Amb Eikenberry has taken aggressive action over the last day or two; has interviewed 60 individuals yesterday and today; held a town hall meeting with the American Embassy community; he believes the Embassy is being well protected
  • Secretary genuinely offended by what occurred; has directed all relevant agencies to aggressively take action; pledged to do everything necessary to keep Congress fully informed as to the findings of the investigations; additional people to be sent
  • Increasing our presence in Camp Sullivan; better situational awareness; contractor has taken steps regarding alcohol
  • The Ambassador has taken control and responsibility for what has happened there; he has directed has staff to aggressively investigate what is going on
  • Anyone who participated in the kinds of acts depicted in the pictures will not be working for DoS; it is inconsistent with our values, with the terms of the contract; anyone in a supervisory role who participated or condoned the action will be removed from their current roles; we expect that there will be changes in the management of ArmorGroup
  • DoS will look at this from top to bottom; Deputy Secretary Lew will be visiting Kabul
  • DoS is investigation allegations that USAID money is ending up with the Taliban

Full DPB is here.

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US Embassy Kabul: Camp Sullivan Goes Dry

POGO Story Day 3

The US Embassy Kabul released a brief statement on the POGO story yesterday. Today, it posted a longer statement (reprinted in full below):

September 3, 2009
U.S. Embassy Statement on Local Guard Force

Since learning of the allegations by the Project on Government Oversight, the U.S. Embassy has taken a number of immediate steps to ensure our security is sound and that our Embassy community is well informed. The Ambassador and other senior Embassy officials held a Town Hall meeting today to discuss the current situation with American and Afghan staff.

A full review of local guard force policies and procedures is underway and a full investigation is ongoing. Embassy officials continue to interview guard force personnel as a part of the investigation, to assess the need for possible suspensions and terminations. Alcohol is now prohibited at Camp Sullivan and Embassy Diplomatic Security staff have been assigned to the Camp on a full-time basis. An additional Diplomatic Security Officer has also been assigned to manage the local guard contract.

We look forward to working closely with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as they carry out their investigation and will continue to take every possible step to ensure the safety and security of American Embassy personnel, while respecting the values of all Afghans, Americans and contract employees and visitors from other countries.

They did recognize the importance of a rapid response. And that’s good. But Camp Sullivan will probably be a dry country for the foreseeable future .

US Embassy Kabul: POGO Story Day 2

United States Department of State headquarters...Image via Wikipedia

The State Department Spokesman addressed the POGO letter on September 2 during the DPB; a day after the news broke and went all over the known universe. I realized that timing on what’s available to be dispensed to the public is not always within Ian Kelly’s control but I just wished he had this yesterday. It would have shown that DOS was on top of this even before the POGO story broke. Now, everything done appears nothing more than a patellar reflex to show that somebody was not sleeping at the wheel. blur Below is the Department’s official statement on allegations raised by the Project on Government Oversight:

Let me start off with talking a little bit about the allegations that were raised by the Project on Government Oversight. As I said before, we take these allegations extremely seriously. In fact, we’ve documented a number of management concerns through our ongoing oversight of this particular contract. There are a number of investigations that are underway, both here and out in Kabul. And we expect to see prompt and effective action taken, as a result of these investigations, and we expect that there will be some changes.

A senior team from Diplomatic Security and our Bureau of Management, some contracting officials, will be going to Kabul in the coming days to investigate. This team will work very closely with the Office of Inspector General, who, as you know, is also investigating this. In addition, Ambassador Eikenberry has instructed his senior staff to examine the allegations and report back to him. He’s also having a town hall tomorrow with staff at Embassy Kabul to discuss this situation and the allegations, and expressed his determination to correct management deficiencies.

To be clear, there were some things going on in Kabul which we were not aware of, but frankly, we should have been aware of. I’d like to stress, though, that all along, any problems that we did discover throughout this contract, we did promptly raise with the contractor, and they were immediately addressed. And you saw some of these deficiencies, of course, in the report of the – of POGO regarding some of the communications we’ve had with the contractor.

By the way, let me just say that – just remind everybody, not that you need reminding, but Afghanistan is a very dangerous place. But it is also important that we believe that the Embassy in Kabul has been well protected. We believe Americans, host nationals, and others working at Embassy Kabul have had the security that they need. As I said before, we have a number of investigations going on, and we’ll keep you abreast of the – of developments as we can.

The subject took most of the DPB yesterday. A summary of the topics covered is below. Read the full text here.

ARMOR GROUP

  • Documents were shared with Senator McCaskill and Senator Collins
  • State Department has a number of investigations going on
  • Armor Group contract value is $189 million for one year with four one-year option periods
  • State Department does not believe that security has been compromised
  • Ambassador Eikenberry is having a town hall meeting tomorrow
  • Eight deficiency letters sent to Armor Group and it has been determined that they have addressed these concerns
  • The only way to justify renewing the contract is to address deficiencies
  • Letters Started in June 2007 and continued through April 30, 2008
  • Ninth letter was a show cause notice
  • The show cause notice was the first step towards considering termination of the contract
  • State Departments has real concerns with this group in Kabul
  • Concerns include conduct issues, management of leadership, and Morale and harassment
  • Staffing shortages were manned from within the Embassy by supervisory personnel and RSO’s
  • The decision to renew the contract was based on the information on hand and State was satisfied that the contractor was providing adequate security for the Embassy.
  • State Department has eight guard service contracts with ArmorGroup – Kabul, Manama, Bahrain, Quito, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda

BLACKWATER

  • State Department has temporarily arranged for an extension of the U.S. Training Center contract
  • The contract only applies to aviation services
  • State Department is disappointed that a transition to a new contractor cannot be made
  • Logicistical issues with Dyncorp

Ultimately, “M” (Management) and Diplomatic Security are the ones on the line here. One oversees administration including contracts and the other has oversight on the ground through the Regional Security Office. Of course, on the ground RSOs report directly to the Deputy Chief of Mission or the Deputy Ambassador, who then reports directly to the US Ambassador. So this thing is going to ricochet through multiple offices and cubicles before this is over.

Expect a speedy investigation from OIG, followed by a very public release of the report. And I would not be surprised if they would bring out before long U/S Patrick Kennedy and whoever is the top honcho at DS these days to give an on the record briefing on this. This is such a public meltdown that I doubt if time-outs would work here. (See Dead Men Working‘s post on heads rolling for this; graphic photos posted).

Now, I’ll have to see if Ambassador Eikenberry’s town hall in Kabul would make it out of the embassy walls.

Related Item:

Senator McCaskill’s letter to U/S Patrick Kennedy | September 1, 2009 SubCommitee on Contracting Oversight

US Foreign AID: Developmentally Disabled?

Kemater Alm (Austria) in September 2003. A cow...Image via Wikipedia

Remember Senator Leahy calling USAID “a check-writing agency” in Ken Dilanian’s article in USA TODAY? Well, here is Ken Silverstein, the Washington Editor for Harper’s Magazine in this month’s issue:

“Staff and budget cuts, which began in the 1980’s and accelerated under the Bush Administration, transformed USAID from an agency that ran its own development projects into a pass-through for taxpayer money to private companies and nonprofits, many of which seems to exist only to garner government contracts.”

Nothing more than a check-signing agency? A pass-through as in “transit”? Why not a water trough, given all the goats and cows that drink from it? duit

Ken Silverstein pens Developmentally Disabled: Why foreign aid to Afghanistan stays in America in the September issue of the magazine. It is a shocking catalog of what has been done in the name of development. And he’s only talking about Afghanistan, where $7.9 million billion has been allocated in the last 7 years and where he said “much of this money […] never made it to Afghanistan, largely because half of all USAID funds end up being spent on American companies.”

According to this piece, USAID hired a contractor in 2002 to conduct an assessment of Afghanistan’s infrastructure need, “essentially allowing the company to determine the need for projects on which it would later bid.” It seems that road building is a popular project in Afghanistan. Silverstein writes that 20% of USAID funding in the country is allocated to road building. So I went and look it up. Here is the lowdown: in FY2002 – FY2006 Obligations, roads accounted for 24% of the money in Afghanistan. But in FY2007 – FY2008, roads accounted for 30% of the total budget request – just $763 million and change. In fact, according to SIGAR’s report to Congress, USAID is overseeing the Ring Road project, which is working to rehabilitate the Afghan roadway system. When completed, approximately 60% of Afghans will live within 50 km of the Ring Road. As of September 2008, more than 1,650 miles of road had been constructed or rehabilitated with support from USAID.


Of course, no one expects USAID employees to actually do the building of roads; it’s not an inherent government function. So the professional road builders were called in, just like the school builders were called in, as well as experts in power, alternative agriculture, democracy, rule of law, etc. etc. etc.


This will make you cringe as a taxpayer; cover your eyes if you don’t want to get mad:

Some items Silverstein cited in this article would make any taxpayer cringe, understandably and may make you want to throw shoes at your computer monitor:

  • The Kandahar-Kabul-Heart highway was a project originally estimated at $155 million. By the time it was completed, a year later than contracted, it cost $730 million.
  • A nonprofit group contracted to build 60 schools and clinics completed nine and 19 months later, the company had “pulled all of its officials […] before USAID’s Office of Inspector General could audit the project.”
  • Silverstein calls “Technical Assistance” a code for “near-mandatory consulting programs.” USAID consultants can earn up to $1,000 a day, and the total annual cost of one contract employee can reach $500,000.
  • Tragicomic results: Silverstein says that experts sent did not bother to confer with counterparts on the ground. A company was contracted to rebuild Afghanistan’s agricultural economy including repair and upgrade of the irrigation canals in Helmand Province. Helmand, of course, is the world’s largest opium-producing region, responsible for 42% of the world’s total production. Silverstein concludes that “in effect, USAID helped finance a surge in the world’s heroin supply.”

The last item is too funny; if only it does not make me want to bang my head on my newly painted wall and scream waaa!

And that’s not even the best part – Silverstein writes that “Many firms responsible for the problems in Afghanistan continue to win contracts” and that one company is actually is hiring for the position of “chief of party” for an anticipated USAID project. No language proficiency in Dari or Pashto, or experience in the region needed. But apparently the company had the good sense to require fluency in English. {Oh, holy mother of goat and all her fancy nephews!}

Harper’s Online is only available to subscribers. You may read the issue highlights here (see page 2) or if you have a subscription to Harper’s you may access the full article here (see page 68).

As an aside – SIGAR told Congress in July it is examining how USAID provides oversight of contracts for Afghanistan reconstruction. Auditors are reviewing USAID’s current contract files as well as prior work done by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the USAID Office of the Inspector General (USAID OIG), and the Commission on Wartime Contracting concerning USAID contract oversight and project requirement issues. Its auditors are also reviewing the contracts that U.S. agencies have with one of the companies mentioned in Silverstein’s report. The audit, which is assessing the agencies’ oversight of the contractor as well as contractor performance, is scheduled for completion during the third quarter of 2009.

Who has the cojones to clean this up?


I supposed if you follow the money, and you look under enough rocks you would eventually end up at the root cause of this problem. You might even be able to bring some of that money back and start reconstruction at home, you know. But I just don’t know who has the cojones to clean this up.


Would
Secretary Clinton’s QDDR help do the job?

President Obama has recently signed Presidential Study Directive authorizing a U.S. government-wide review of global development policy. The review is co-chaired by National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and the chairman of the National Economic Council Larry Summers according to this report. Review is not action, but it’s a good place to start providing that they allow themselves to look at the brutal facts, the numbers game and who’s feeding from this trough.

ketukmeje

Updated: SIGAR info added.