U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

Posted: 12:45am  ET

 

State/OIG has issued a Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. We should hope that no fire breaks out at post before March 2019. But do staffers need to sleep with buckets of sand next to their doors?

During the course of an audit of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) construction projects at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was alerted to potential risks to personnel and property due to the improper installation of the embassy’s fire alarm system. OIG concluded that the system was, in fact, improperly installed and did present safety risks. OIG is therefore issuing this Management Assistance Report to prompt immediate action to address the identified deficiencies.

OBO and the Bureau of Administration have undertaken a major office and residential expansion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As part of this expansion, in June 2010, the bureaus contracted with Caddell Construction, Inc. (Caddell), to build a number of new facilities at the embassy. These facilities include residential and office buildings, warehouses, parking and vehicle maintenance facilities, power plants, perimeter walls, guard towers, and compound access control facilities. Caddell is required to install fire alarm systems in each of the new buildings throughout the compound as part of its contract.

Fire alarm control panels installed in 23 buildings on the embassy compound are key components of the fire alarm system. Fire alarm control panels monitor and control each fire alarm-initiating and signaling device through microprocessors and system software. Fire alarm control panels are connected throughout the embassy compound via fiber optic cables that transmit data between each building and to Post One, a communications center staffed by Marine Security Guards. The Marine Security Guards at Post One are on duty 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and are responsible for ensuring that communications are routed to appropriate responders during emergencies or security threats. When a fire emergency occurs at any building on the embassy compound, Post One is alerted through the network of fire alarm control panels. Post One, in turn, alerts the embassy fire department and other emergency response personnel.

In July 2017, the embassy’s principal operations and maintenance (O&M) contractor, PAE Government Services (PAE), discovered that underground fiber optic cables on the west side of the embassy compound were accidentally cut by a construction worker. As a consequence of the damage to the fiber optic cables, fire alarm control panels in eight buildings could not transmit data to Post One for more than 6 months. After completion of OIG’s fieldwork in January 2018, OIG shared its findings with OBO officials. In response, embassy facility managers took steps to repair the damaged fiber optic cables and restored connectivity between the affected buildings and Post One.

OIG also found that the existing fiber optic cable network does not have a separate redundant path as required by Section 12.3.7 of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 72) code.1

According to NFPA, a redundant path helps ensure the network’s continued functionality if one of the cables is damaged. Without a redundant path, damage in one location can render sections of the network inoperable. Additionally, OIG found that seven fire alarm control panels on the east side of the embassy compound are not connected to Post One. Rather, these seven control panels are on a separate network connected to a guard post staffed by contractor security guards on the east side of the compound. Engineers in OBO’s Office of Fire Protection told PAE that this configuration is inconsistent with OBO standards and that ideally all fire alarm control panels on the embassy compound should be connected to the Post One communications center.

According to OBO officials, because the fiber optic cable network is part of a larger project involving the construction of multiple buildings and facilities, there is no requirement to install a redundant path until the end of the entire construction project, which is currently scheduled to be completed in March 2019. Furthermore, according to OBO officials, because the seven fire alarm control panels on the east side of the embassy compound are in temporary structures, there is likewise no requirement that those structures be connected to Post One. Notwithstanding OBO’s position, OIG made two recommendations to Embassy Kabul, in coordination with OBO, to take immediate actions to correct the identified deficiencies because they pose potential risks to the safety of embassy personnel and property.

Read in full here (PDF).

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Whistleblower in @StateDept “CIVPOL” Contract Gets $875K in False Claims Act Settlement

Posted: 12:30 am ET
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On September 13, USDOJ announced that Pacific Architects and Engineers, LLC has agreed to pay $5 million in False Claims Act allegations related to “PAE’s Civilian Police “CIVPOL” contract in support of State Department missions in Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, South Sudan, and elsewhere. The announcement includes a note that “The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.” It also adds that the $5 million settlement also resolves a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by former PAE manager Robert J. Palombo under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act and that Mr. Palombo will receive $875,000 as his share of the government’s recovery.

Below is an excerpt from the announcement:

WASHINGTON – Pacific Architects and Engineers, LLC (“PAE”) has agreed to pay the United States $5 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly failed to follow vetting requirements for personnel working in Afghanistan under a State Department contract for labor services. PAE is a Virginia-based contractor that provides personnel and other support to various federal government agencies.

The settlement was announced today by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State.

The agreement resolves claims relating to PAE’s Civilian Police “CIVPOL” contract in support of State Department missions in Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, South Sudan, and elsewhere.  In 2007, the State Department awarded PAE a task order under the CIVPOL contract to provide training and mentoring personnel to counter-narcotics and drug interdiction police and investigators in Afghanistan. The task order required PAE to conduct extensive background checks on U.S. personnel that were in high risk or armed positions, including independently developed reference checks. For local, national, and third party national employees working on the task order, PAE was obligated to submit their names to the State Department’s Regional Security Office in Afghanistan for additional security clearance. According to the government’s evidence, PAE was aware of these contractual requirements but did not comply with them for extended periods. The United States asserts that invoices PAE submitted to the State Department for the labor services of improperly vetted personnel were false.

“This settlement affirms our commitment to hold government contractors accountable for properly screening employees, particularly those who work alongside our government’s personnel in fragile areas of the world,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “In this particular matter, it is alleged that PAE failed to conduct the appropriate vetting for personnel working in Afghanistan under a State Department contract for labor services for which invoices were later submitted. Our Office will continue to investigate and seek appropriate recoveries from contractors who do not meet their obligations.”

“The OIG special agents and staff assigned to this case should be commended for their excellent investigative work,” said Inspector General Linick. “Rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse is at the heart of any OIG mission, as is ensuring that contractors are accountable for every taxpayer dollar they receive.”

The settlement also resolves a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by former PAE manager Robert J. Palombo under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens may bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery obtained by the government. Mr. Palombo will receive $875,000 as his share of the government’s recovery. The case is captioned United States ex rel. Robert J. Palombo v. PAE, Inc., et al. 

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

This settlement was the result of an investigation into Mr. Palombo’s allegations by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Department of State, Office of Inspector General.

The full statement is available here.

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