GSA queries Lockheed Martin on interrogation contracts

The General Services Administration has "concerns about Lockheed Martin Corp.'s business practices and ethics" after learning the company supplied interrogators to the U.S. military through a contract that wasn't designed for that purpose, according to a GSA official.

Lockheed Martin, the largest federal contractor according to GSA records, received notice from the agency's suspension and debarment official June 16 that it must show why it "should remain eligible for future government contracts." GSA took action after it discovered the government procured interrogators using a contract Lockheed held for engineering services. The requirement for Lockheed to demonstrate its fitness as a contractor is the first step in the government's decision whether to recommend the company be suspended or barred from receiving contracts.

While it's highly unlikely that GSA would recommend such action, serving notice to Lockheed reflects the agency's heightened sensitivity to monitoring government contractors' ethics and how they perform their work, particularly in the wake of high-profile corporate scandals and bankruptcies.

GSA asked Lockheed to provide information "in regard to administration of the contract" under which the company supplied interrogators and analysts for the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said company spokesman Tom Greer. Detainees there have been labeled enemy combatants by the president.

Lockheed supplied the interrogators for the intelligence directorate of U.S. Southern Command. The military, however, didn't award the contract on its own. Rather, it sought the assistance of the National Business Center, a fee-for-service procurement agency at the Interior Department that administers contracts for other agencies. The business center chose to use the engineering services contract. The business center has moved Lockheed's interrogators onto a new, sole-source contract, and it has decided to stop awarding interrogation work all together.

Spokespersons at Southern Command were unavailable to explain why the military purchased the interrogators from Lockheed and why they chose to use the National Business Center.

Greer said Lockheed probably would not see any negative affects from GSA's inquiry. "Our belief is that it will not result in debarment or suspension action," he said. Greer declined to say why that was the case, saying it would "be inappropriate" to comment since the company had determined that GSA was unlikely to recommend action.

GSA officials declined to say what information Lockheed had provided to demonstrate its fitness as a contractor, but a spokeswoman said the company was cooperating with GSA's request.

Joseph Neurauter, GSA's suspension and debarment official, notified Lockheed chairman and chief executive officer Vance Coffman of the agency's concerns in writing in a June 16 "show cause notice." In it, Neurauter said, "It appears that the [contract for Guantanamo] was misused."

The contract was not the first that Lockheed won for work at Guantanamo, nor was it the first that raised questions. The company sought out the National Business Center after a prior interrogation contract was canceled in February.

That contract was awarded by a division of GSA. The agency's Federal Technology Service, which also administers contracts for other groups, placed an order for interrogators using an information technology services contract in November 2002. That award went to Affiliated Computer Services Inc., a company that Lockheed purchased a year later.

FTS officials discovered the contract in an audit prompted by revelations that some FTS employees have used technology contracts to award unrelated items, such as construction services, marine equipment and mental health-care services. The GSA inspector general is reviewing all FTS contract awards, and the agency's leaders have vowed to correct any improprieties.

The show-cause notice is the second GSA has issued to a contractor providing interrogators. Following revelations that CACI International supplied interrogators for military locations in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib prison, GSA asked the company to prove its fitness. Officials decided last month not to recommend suspension or debarment proceedings.

Mary Alice Johnson, a GSA spokeswoman, said Neurauter was still deliberating on the Lockheed matter. She gave no indication when he would make a decision, but she said that if he recommends suspension or debarment, Lockheed would be notified in writing.

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