Lawmakers criticize management of Kabul embassy security contract

Lawmakers on Wednesday said they were concerned by the State Department's decision to extend a contract for security services at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, despite performance problems.

An investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight at the request of Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, found complaints about ArmorGroup North America Inc. dating back to July 2007, when the company started protecting the embassy. State contracting officers had repeatedly warned ArmorGroup that it was failing to meet its contractual obligations.

"I consider the contract deficiencies addressed below to endanger performance of the contract to such a degree that the security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is in jeopardy," a State Department contracting officer wrote in a July 2007 notice to ArmorGroup.

In September 2008, the company's performance problems had reportedly grown so severe that State advised ArmorGroup it was considering terminating the contract. As recently as March 2009, State again informed the company that it had "grave concerns" about continuing failure to provide sufficient guards. During a workforce inspection, State officials observed at least 18 guards absent from their posts at the embassy.

William Moser, deputy assistant secretary of State for logistics management, told the subcommittee during a hearing on Wednesday that department officials identified a number of deficiencies but the security of embassy personnel was not compromised. State officials interviewed by the subcommittee staff said the department's security personnel in Kabul provided diligent oversight of the contractors and determined that the embassy's operational security was never at issue.

Moser said the notices and warnings from the contracting officer were meant to show ArmorGroup that the department was "serious about these things."

"You want contracting officers in the federal government to be tough on contractors, particularly when they're starting in to a new contract," he said.

McCaskill told Moser she was having difficulty reconciling the documents with his testimony, and Collins admonished him for allowing contracting officers to cry wolf.

"If the Department of State is telling a contractor that the deficiencies addressed below endanger performance of the contract to such a degree that the security of the embassy is in jeopardy… If that is an exaggeration that is unfair to the contractor; if it's accurate it's an alarming situation that demands action by the State Department," Collins said.

Samuel Brinkley, vice president of homeland and international security services at ArmorGroup parent company Wackenhut Services Inc., said the firm has worked hard to correct deficiencies since acquiring ArmorGroup in May 2008. As part of this process, Wackenhut made personnel changes in ArmorGroup and revamped its internal processes and procedures. "We are proud to say that we now have addressed each weakness and deficiency in the performance on the Kabul Embassy contract -- and that today AGNA is in full compliance with the staffing and other major requirements of the contract," Brinkley said.

After hearing the testimony, McCaskill said she trusted AmorGroup and State had made significant progress fixing contract deficiencies going into an additional option year, but remained dissatisfied with the record of mismanagement by the agency and the contractor.

"The Kabul embassy contract can be viewed as a case study on how mismanagement and lack of oversight can cause poor performance," she said.

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