Officials Mishandled Trans-Africa Airlift Contract, Pentagon Watchdog Finds

Nigerien soldiers receive a counter IED class during an exercise sponsored by U.S. Africa Command in Diffa, Niger, Feb. 28, 2017. Nigerien soldiers receive a counter IED class during an exercise sponsored by U.S. Africa Command in Diffa, Niger, Feb. 28, 2017. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kulani Lakanaria

Just days after the Pentagon released a post-mortem on a fatal ambush of U.S. combat troops in Niger last year, the department’s watchdog criticized U.S. Africa Command for mishandling a contract for conducting emergency evacuation services and airlifting cargo across the continent.

Defense Department rules required the command to conduct what is called a Service Requirements Review Board to analyze and verify its requirements before U.S. Transportation Command awarded a $900 million contract for trans-Africa airlift support.

The command’s contracting staff “did not take responsibility as the requiring activity” for the contract, with Transportation Command officials assuming that as long as they received funding and a performance work statement, “the requiring activity had validated the requirements,” said the report dated May 8.

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The result, the IG found, was that the requirements for the contract “may not be accurate.”

The 12-month, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract was signed in February 2017 with AAR Airlift, Berry Aviation Inc., and Erickson Helicopters. It had four option years with a maximum value of $900 million.  

Yet it “included requirements for intelligence that were not clear and some medical services that may unnecessarily increase costs.” The requirements also allowed the contractor, the report noted, “to refuse any mission for safety reasons, which could delay the recovery and return of U.S. Military, DoD civilians, and DoD contractor personnel who are isolated or missing in an uncertain or hostile environment.”

Auditors found no evidence that Africa Command conducted the mandatory review “to document its decision on whether to use contractor or military support for airlift services.”

In addition, the Defense undersecretary, the chief financial officer, “did not implement strong internal controls at the DoD level to improve reporting, but instead relied on controls at the component level,” the report said, leaving a broad set of requirements that “may lead to the acquisition of intelligence services beyond what is necessary for flight mission planning.”

The performance statement may have been vulnerable to wasteful requirements because it mentioned physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, paramedics, and intensive care unit nurses that are already provided by the military.

The IG recommended that Africa Command develop and implement a training program for acquisition personnel to ensure that requirements are reviewed prior to awarding contracts, and that it conduct such a review of the airlift contract in question.

Africa Command declined to respond, but Transportation Command agreed with the recommendations.

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