Afghanistan Contracts and Woodrow Wilson — Hey! That Sounds Familiar!

Signature of Woodrow WilsonImage via Wikipedia

Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight held a hearing yesterday on Afghanistan Contracts: An Overview (Thursday | December 17, 2009). The five witnesses who were at the hearing yesterday are listed below with links to their testimonies. Additional documents for the hearing are archived at: Hearing 7: Afghanistan Contracts: An Overview (Documents):

Mr. William H. Campbell , III
[view testimony]
Director of Operations, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)
U.S. Department of Defense

Mr. Edward M. Harrington [view testimony]
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Procurement), Department of the Army
U.S. Department of Defense

Mr. Charles North [view testimony]
Senior Deputy Director, Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force
U.S. Agency for International Development

Mr. Daniel F. Feldman [view testimony]
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
U.S. Department of State

Mr. Jeffrey Parsons [view testimony]
Executive Director, Army Contracting Command, Department of the Army
U.S. Department of Defense

Mr. Feldman, one of the
Deputy Special Representatives for Af/Pak had this to say:

“We are shifting away from large U.S.-based contracts to smaller, more flexible reconstruction contracts with fewer sub-grants and sub-contracts that enable greater on-the-ground oversight. The premise behind this flexibility is simple: in a dynamic conflict environment like Afghanistan, we need to be able to adapt our programs as conditions change on the ground. These smaller contracts and grants will be managed by U.S. officials in the field, closer to the actual activity implementation, making it easier for those same officials to direct, monitor, and oversee projects to ensure the proper use of taxpayers’ funds. In most cases, these contracts are implemented by local Afghan personnel. And if programs are not producing the anticipated results, our personnel now have increased authority to direct corrective actions.”

Read the whole thing here.

Mr. North, the
Senior Deputy Director, Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force for USAID had this to say on USAID Civilian Staffing in Afghanistan:

“As of December 7, 2009, USAID/Afghanistan has 180 American staff on the ground. It is anticipated that USAID will have 333 American staff on the ground in early 2010. USAID/Afghanistan also currently has 136 Afghan staff and 16 third country national staff. USAID/Afghanistan works with approximately 20,000 implementing personnel on USAID programs, 19,000 of whom are Afghan employees.”

Mr. North then concluded his testimony with this:

“Afghanistan is hungry for development. The United States, in coordination with its international partners, is providing jobs to the jobless, a voice to the voiceless, heat for cold homes, water for the thirsty, and food for the hungry. In short, it is offering Afghans a path to hope and sustainable development. We are optimistic about a new era of prosperity and peace. We are also optimistic that one day we will echo Woodrow Wilson’s famous words: ―The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

Hey Woodrow Wilson – that sounds familiar – babai

Remember that new PRISM journal with the Armitage interview? Well, shucks – USAID Afghanistan Mission Director William M. Frej and David Hatch, USAID Program Officer had exactly the same thing, word for word in A New Approach to the Delivery of U.S. Assistance to Afghanistan!

Trust, Confidence, and Hope

“Afghanistan is hungry for development. The United States, in coordination with its international partners, is providing jobs to the jobless, a voice to the voiceless, heat for cold homes, water for the thirsty, and food for the hungry. In short, it is offering Afghans a path to hope and sustainable development. We are optimistic about a new era of prosperity and peace. We are also optimistic that one day we will echo Woodrow Wilson’s famous words: “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

Read Mr. North’s Senate testimony

Read A New Approach to the Delivery of U.S. Assistance to Afghanistan

In any case — the day before the hearing, the Subcommittee Majority Staff circulated a memo, reported in the Federal Eye, examining reconstruction, development, and troop support contracts in Afghanistan. It lists among others, the following:

  • Wasteful Spending on Defense Department Contracts Nears $1 Billion. According to federal auditors, approximately $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs has been submitted by Defense Department contractors for work in Afghanistan. This represents 16% of the total contract dollars examined.

  • Number of Defense Department Contractors in Afghanistan May Reach 160,000. There are currently 104,000 Defense Department contractors currently working in Afghanistan. The increase in troops may require an additional 56,000 Defense Department contractors, bringing the total number of Defense contractors in Afghanistan to 160,000.

The Defense Department is the single largest employer of contractors in Afghanistan. As of September 30, 2009, there were approximately 104,000 Defense Department contractors and approximately 64,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. In other words, contractors comprised more than 60% of the Defense Department’s workforce in Afghanistan. In December 2008, contractors comprised 69% of the Defense Department’s workforce, the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.

  • New Concerns about Troop Support Contracts. The Army continues to rely heavily on LOGCAP III, the monopoly troop support contract held by KBR, to support operations in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. In 2010, the Army anticipates spending more than $657 million under LOGCAP III and approximately $87 million under LOGCAP IV – despite the fact that the Army intends to complete the transition from LOGCAP III to LOGCAP IV in Afghanistan by June 2010.

The memo also cites failure to apply lessons learned from Iraq such as:

  • Poor Coordination of Interagency Efforts | No single individual or office currently has responsibility for coordinating development and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. The SPOT database, a database intended to coordinate contracts and contractor personnel for all federal agencies in Iraq, was not implemented until July 2008 and, due to inadequate data, remains largely unused.
  • Continual Personnel Turnover | The frequent turnover of personnel in Iraq led to significant gaps in contract management and oversight. According to Special Inspector General Bowen, the frequent changes in personnel increased the risk that contractors would not meet the contract requirements. The turnover also created opportunities for unscrupulous contractors to take advantage of the lack of oversight. GAO has reported that frequent staff turnovers also led to cost increases and schedule delays on reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

    Personnel turnover has been a challenge in Afghanistan as well. USAID, which generally requires its employees to serve tours of duty lasting between three to five years, has limited personnel to one-year tours in Afghanistan. The State Department’s foreign service officers are also limited to one-year tours. The Air Force, which supplies team leaders for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, rotates individuals every six months.

The memo says that the Defense Contract Audit Agency had reported it identified a total of more than $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contractors for work in Afghanistan during a briefing to Subcommittee staff on December 9, 2009. The majority staff concludes that the $950 million is likely to underestimate the total amount of wasteful or undocumented spending in Afghanistan because “Although the DCAA auditors have reviewed $5.9 billion in Afghanistan spending, this does not include all of the dollars spent under contracts in Afghanistan, including more than $2.1 billion spent under USAID reconstruction and development contracts.”

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US Consulate Herat Moves Forward

5 Star Hotel of Herat
Photo from Foreign Ministry of Afghanistan

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was in a lease-signing ceremony last Wednesday for the US Consulate in Herat, in western Afghanistan. The event was attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta . According to Wikipedia, Herat is the third largest city of Afghanistan, and the gateway to Iran, collecting the highest amount of customs revenue for Afghanistan. The country shares a 936 km border with Iran.

Excerpted from Ambassador’s Eikenberry remarks during the ceremony:

There are few occasions more important and symbolic in the friendship of nations than for a U.S. Ambassador to be able to stand before you and announce with great pride, as I do today, that the U.S. Government is establishing a Consulate in “Shahr-e Bostan Herat” – this ancient, wonderful city of Herat.

When the U.S. Government first considered its options for opening Consulates, there was never any doubt that the ancient crossroad of Herat would be one of the cities selected for extending U.S. representation within Afghanistan.
Since last spring, when we first identified properties that might serve as a future U.S. Consulate, the 5-Star Hotel property literally stood out as the most logical and usable space to lease until we could buy land and build a more permanent Consulate compound.

Signing this lease today brings us one big step closer to opening the Consulate in Herat.

Let everyone understand: Our aim in Afghanistan and in establishing U.S. Consulate Heart is to promote peace and security, prosperity and stability.
Our history and experience of diplomatic relations with many countries shows that our diplomatic presence brings economic opportunity for many as it promotes stronger governance and rule of law to all. We are a country founded on such principles and values. Opening Consulate Herat is a tangible reflection of our commitment to such common interests.

This ceremony, following as it does upon the signing ceremony several weeks ago for the lease of land permitting the opening of another U.S. consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif next year, affirms America’s enduring friendship with Afghanistan and its people.

Read the full remarks here.

It looks like no western media covered this event. China’s Xinhua and People’s Daily Online did have brief reports on this on Wednesday including the foreign minister’s remarks: “Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta noted that the opening of the U.S. consulate will not affect the relations between Kabul and Tehran.”

From best I could tell, there is only one 5-Star Hotel in Herat, which is the 5-Star Hotel of Heart. Here is a photo of the hotel from Flickr, with the user’s comments: “I think the 5-Star part is more self-proclamation and naming than the official prestige category bestowed on hotels. Still this is probably one of the best hotels in Afghanistan, and doubtlessly the best outside Kabul.”

From Wikitravel’s entry: “Five Star Hotel, (North east of downtown – every taxi driver knows where it is). A favorite with NGO workers and expats the Five Star hotel is a comfortable western style place. A good option if you have your own transport, otherwise you are at the mercy of overcharging taxi drivers. $50 per night.”

Other photos around Herat here, here and here.