GSA canceled Guantanamo interrogator contract

As part of an agencywide review of its business practices, the General Services Administration in February canceled a contract to provide interrogators for the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after officials learned the work was improperly awarded under a contract for information technology services.

In late November 2002, a GSA office procured the interrogators on behalf of the Army's Southern Command, which runs the U.S. base at Guantanamo, according to Mary Alice Johnson, a GSA spokeswoman. The interrogators were sent to question prisoners the Bush administration has held at the detention facility as part of the global war on terrorism, Johnson said.

The procurement was handled by the Kansas City regional office of GSA's Federal Technology Service, an organization that administers technology contracts for other agencies, but has come under fire for awarding work outside the scope of those agreements. The GSA inspector general is auditing FTS' 11 regional offices, and already has documented contracting abuses affecting hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Kansas City office placed a task order for the Army in late 2002 under one of thousands of contracts known as schedules that GSA administers. Affiliated Computer Services Inc., which is now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., was qualified to receive work under the schedule and won the order.

Johnson said it was inappropriate to use the technology contract for interrogation work. She added that GSA has no schedule for interrogator services. GSA officials in the Kansas City region discovered the contract in January 2004 as part of the nationwide review, and canceled it the following month, Johnson said.

Shortly thereafter, officials at Southern Command contacted another contract administration outfit, the Interior Department's National Business Center, and asked them to take over the interrogator procurement, said NBC spokesman Frank Quimby. Officials at NBC awarded the interrogator contract using another GSA schedule, this one for professional engineering services, and the interrogations at Guantanamo continued, Quimby said. Southern Command officials didn't tell NBC the interrogator contract had been canceled by GSA, Quimby added. "We were completely unaware that GSA had ruled it out of scope," he said.

NBC also has awarded interrogation contracts in Iraq. In late 2003, it awarded several orders for interrogators and support services for Abu Ghraib prison using the same technology schedule contract that FTS used for the work at Guantanamo Bay. The Abu Ghraib contract was awarded to CACI International. A CACI employee was named in an Army investigation into abuse of prisoners by interrogators.

Quimby said officials at Southern Command were used to working with NBC because years ago it took over the contracting operations of the Army's Ft. Huachuca in Arizona, which runs intelligence-related procurements. "They're familiar with those types of contracts," and sought out NBC, he said of Southern Command officials.

NBC contracting personnel, Quimby said, believed it was appropriate to use the engineering services schedule for the interrogator work, because they felt they had to procure the interrogators quickly.

"We believe they made a judgment call and were acting out of the best intentions," Quimby said. "It was a wartime situation. There were these prisoners being collected. They thought that they were actually within the bounds of the schedule."

After news of the CACI work at Abu Ghraib became public in May, GSA asked NBC to look for other interrogation contracts it had awarded. Once they determined that the engineering schedule was used for the Guantanamo work, "GSA let them know that's improper," Johnson said.

The Guantanamo interrogators have been awarded a new, sole-source contract and will continue their work until it expires on Jan. 31, 2005, Quimby said. While the contract has four renewal options, NBC will not exercise them, he added. After reviewing the business center's mission, Quimby said it "has decided to get out of the business" of awarding interrogator contracts, and also will forgo any work for interrogation support services. "We shouldn't be doing this," Quimby said.

NBC has awarded six contracts for interrogation-related labor--three for actual interrogators and three for data entry and data analysis personnel, who don't collect information from prisoners but work with it after it has been entered into military computer systems, Quimby said.

Johnson said the fact that GSA's employees had discovered the interrogation contract demonstrated officials' commitment to correcting contracting abuses. "It's being taken exceptionally seriously by leadership," she said.

This week, GSA and the Defense Department announced a joint initiative called Get It Right, which calls upon contracting personnel to be more circumspect in how they award and administer contracts.

News of the Guantanamo contract was first reported in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.

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