POGO Story Gets First Capitol Hill Hearing

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (CWC), an independent federal commission created in 2008 (Public Law 110-181) has announced the first public hearing resulting from the POGO story. It says that it will hold a hearing on the U.S. State Department’s selection, management, and oversight of security and other contractors on September 14.

The hearing, “State Department Oversight of Contractor-Employee Conduct,” is scheduled to run from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Capitol Hill. Building and room number has yet to be posted in the Commission’s Web site.

According to CWC: The hearing complements the Commission’s mandate to study matters including the widespread use of private security contractors, and was spurred by recent allegations of misconduct among employees of the State Department’s contractor Armour Group North America. Armour Group, a unit of Wackenhut Services, Inc., has a contract to protect the U.S. embassy and personnel in Kabul, Afghanistan. The company attracted intense media scrutiny recently when a watchdog group released photos purporting to show Armour Group employees engaging in alcohol-laced incidents of nudity, sexual misconduct, and degradation of junior employees. The State Department has announced that eight of the guards have now been fired.

“The conduct that’s been featured in the news speaks for itself,” said Commission Co-Chair Michael Thibault. “We don’t intend to dwell solely on that. We also want to get at the underlying questions of what the State Department contracts require of contract-employee conduct, how thorough its contractor-selection process is, how contract performance is monitored, and how shortcomings are addressed.”

Co-Chair Christopher Shays said, “Behavior like this is completely unacceptable and destructive to America’s image around the world. We need to make sure that federal departments engaging contractors are doing thorough vetting, ensuring training and compliance with codes of conduct, and enforcing contract terms that represent the high ideals of America.”

Back in June, the Senate Ad hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight (SCO) had conducted a hearing especially on this issue (minus the photos and the hazing allegations). [See Hearing 2: Kabul Embassy Security Contracts (scroll down for documents]. The day the POGO story broke, the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) fired off a letter to the State Department calling for a “thorough review of the performance, management, and oversight of this contract.” She has also requested additional documents relating to the Kabul Embassy guard force contract and a committee briefing on or before Wednesday, September 30, 2009.

So far, we have three ongoing investigations and one public hearing announced since the POGO story made the news. I suspect that the SCO may decide to hold a second hearing before too long. Here is the
US Embassy Kabul POGO story in numbers:

1 public hearing announced

1 whistleblower gone public

1 senior management team replaced

2 guards resigned

3 investigations opened

8 guards fired

8 deficiency letters sent

120 interviews conducted