Officially In: Mary Beth Leonard to Bamako

MaliImage via Wikipedia On June 21, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Mary Beth Leonard to be Ambassador to the Republic of Mali. The WH released the following brief bio:

Mary Beth Leonard, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, currently serves as Director of the Office of West African Affairs at the Department of State. Prior to this assignment, she most recently served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Mali. She was also Deputy Chief of Mission in Suriname.  Other positions overseas include: Deputy Principal Officer in Cape Town, South Africa; Economic and Commercial officer in Togo; Consular Officer in Namibia; and Consular and Economic Officer in Cameroon.  In Washington, Ms. Leonard has served in the State Department Operations Center and twice as a Desk Officer, in the Office of Southern African Affairs and Central African Affairs. 

Ms. Leonard received a B.A. from Boston University, an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and an M.A. in Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

KBR Subcontractor Gets USAID/Iraq Contract Despite Labor Trafficking Allegation

The Najlaa Episode Revisited
Documents Reveal Details of Alleged Labor Trafficking by KBR Subcontractor

By David Isenberg and Nick Schwellenbach | Jun 14, 2011

Originally published by the Project On Government Oversight
(used with permission)

“DOD contractors and their subcontractors in Iraq have victimized more than 250,000 men. That number does not include other agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, which uses TCN-contracted labor in support of its operations.”

In December 2008, South Asian workers, two thousand miles or more from their homes, staged a protest on the outskirts of Baghdad. The reason: Up to 1,000 of them had been confined in a windowless warehouse and other dismal living quarters without money or work for as long as three months.
In a typical comment made by the laborers to news organizations at the time, Davidson Peters, a 42-year-old Sri Lankan man, told a McClatchy Newspapers reporter that “They promised us the moon and stars…While we are here, wives have left their husbands and children have been shut out of their schools” because money for their families back home had dried up.

The men came to Iraq lured by the promise of employment by Najlaa International Catering Services, a subcontractor performing work for Houston-based KBR, Inc. under the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) III contract.

Now, a cache of internal corporate and government documents obtained by POGO offer insight into this episode of alleged war zone human trafficking by companies working for the U.S.—and suggest that hardly anyone has been held accountable for what may be violations of U.S. law.

The subcontractor, Najlaa, appears to have suffered no repercussions for its role in luring hundreds of South Asian workers to Iraq with promises of lucrative jobs only to turn around and warehouse at least 1,000 of them in dismal living conditions without work—and pay—for several months. In fact, Najlaa continues to win government contracts.

Despite strongly worded “zero tolerance” policies against human trafficking, the U.S. has directly awarded contracts to Najlaa after the December 2008 protests, including one contract that lasts through 2012.

The Najlaa Incident: An Accountability Case Study

The freshly unearthed documents show that for several months, KBR employees expressed exasperation at Najlaa’s apparent abuse of the laborers and said the subcontractor was embarrassing KBR in front of its main client in Iraq: the U.S. military. But despite its own employees’ strongly worded communications to Najlaa, to this day, KBR continues to award subcontracts to the company.

The documents also suggest that Najlaa rehired former KBR employees who were terminated for what appear to be trafficking-in-persons violations. It is not clear what, if any, repercussions these employees faced besides their termination.

Additionally, the documents raise questions about government officials’ response in the wake of the 2008 protests by Najlaa employees. Although, at the time, the press reported that the U.S. government was investigating alleged trafficking by Najlaa, it has not led to any prosecution or termination of the subcontract. A Sri Lankan company that supplied laborers to Najlaa told POGO it complained about Najlaa’s abusive practices to both KBR and the U.S. government, but said that U.S. law enforcement agencies never followed up.

Revisiting the December 2008 episode isn’t just a historical exercise. Besides its continuing work with KBR, Najlaa is still winning government contracts, such as a recent $3 million contract to provide food services for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Baghdad from February 2010 to February 2012.

According to a 2006 State Department report on human trafficking, a “DOD investigation, prompted by late 2005 media allegations of labor trafficking in Iraq, identified a number of abuses, some of them considered widespread, committed by DOD contractors or subcontractors of third country national (TCN) workers in Iraq.” The State Department said in response to the investigation that the “Department of Defense has responded swiftly with a number of measures to closely monitor the hiring and employment of foreign laborers.” The DOD’s response, the State Department assured, would “ensure the U.S. employs a ‘zero tolerance’ policy against human trafficking.” But clearly having policies on the books alone did not ensure anything — besides the Najlaa episodes, there have been many instances of alleged trafficking and third country national worker abuse. Is it really “zero tolerance” when there are no repercussions?

Read the whole report here.

David Isenberg has been an observer and commentator on private military and security contracting since its modern birth in the 1980s. He is the author of the book Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. His blog The PMSC Observer is the leading online resource for news and current events pertaining to subject of private military and security. Nick Schwellenbach is POGO’s Director of Investigations.


US Embassy Tajikistan: $318,913 to Build Rec Center, $1.5M to Demolish, Redesign, Reconstruct Botched Rec Center

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) Semiannual Report to the Congress for the Department of State (Department) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) recently went online. This most recent report covers the period ending March 31, 2011.

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Photo from US Embassy/Facebook

The report includes a summary of inspections, audits, and investigations conducted by the OIG including the following botched rec center at the US Embassy in Dushanbe:

Limited-Scope Review of the Design and Construction of a Recreation Center at Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan (MERO-I-11-04)

In December 2006, Embassy Dushanbe and RPSO awarded a contract, valued at $318,913 for construction of a post-managed recreation center, to a local contractor, PIR-5 LTD (PIR-5). OBO approved the initial design and issued a building permit in October 2007. In July 2008, RPSO issued a notice to proceed, and construction began in the fall of 2008. In May 2009, PIR-5 ceased site activities and walked off the job when RPSO withheld payments. The contract was formally terminated on July 15, 2009. The swimming pool facilities must be demolished, redesigned, and reconstructed at an estimated cost of $1.5 million—five times the original cost.

OIG found a number of deficiencies in the design and construction of the recreation center, including RPSO’s and the embassy’s failure to assess the reasonableness of the proposed price. PIR-5 did not design and construct the Dushanbe recreation center according to required building codes and guidelines. Required designs were not submitted by PIR-5, nor were design issues resolved prior to starting construction. RPSO failed to limit U.S. Government risk because the contractor was not required to purchase payment bonds and insurance. CORs did not properly monitor the contractor’s performance or progress, failed to establish quality assurance measures, and did not ensure the contractor submitted required documents. Invoices were approved and paid although the work was unacceptable. COR turnover and a short­age in management staff led to a lack of continuity in contract management.

OIG recommended that an employee with construction engineering experience chair the managed project technical evaluation team and that the contracting officer obtain an OBO audit before awarding a contract varying more than 20 percent from the Independent Government Cost Estimate. OIG also recommended that OBO fully review and approve designs, management plans, and quality assurance plans before beginning construction; review construction progress and identify risks; and establish COR guidance.