An obsolete system, not enough people and too little training. Those are the key findings in a report released last week on Army contracting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren appointed the Special Commission on Army Acquisition and Program Management in Expeditionary Operations in mid-September to review contracting linked to the war effort. He appointed former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Dr. Jacques Gansler to head the six-member commission. Gansler served in the Defense Department during the Clinton administration.
The commission's findings, delivered last week to the Pentagon, provided the “blunt assessment we asked for and needed,” Geren said, adding that it also provided a plan for the future.
“First and most important is the people”
At a Pentagon briefing last week, Gansler said the first steps needed are to hire more contracting officers and to train them properly. While the workload in contracting actions has increased more than 350 percent in the last 12 years, he said the Army's contracting-oversight work force has been almost cut in half.
“First and most important is the people,” Gansler explained at the briefing.
Gansler recommended adding 400 soldiers and 1,000 civilians to the Army contracting force, and another 583 Army personnel to fill positions in the Defense Contract Management Agency.
Gansler also recommended establishing an Army Contracting Agency and adding five generals to the Army contracting force, to give it stature and importance. In the 1990s, he said the Army had five generals on the contracting force, and now there are none.
Geren pointed to post-Cold War cuts to the Army acquisition budget as the reason for an undersized acquisition work force today.
“This work force has not been adequately expanded, trained, structured or empowered to meet the needs of our war fighters, now or in the future,” Geren said at the briefing. “We also need to do a better job in training our commanders on their responsibilities for requirements definition and contractor performance.”
Special training needed
Gansler pointed out that only 36 percent of those with contract oversight in Iraq and Kuwait are certified. He recommended training, especially in expeditionary contracting. Gansler said that expeditionary contracting is more demanding, because the needs of the operational commander are often immediate.
Gansler recommended special training for expeditionary contracting that teaches shortcuts but keeps contracting officers within the law.
“We must recognize that expeditionary contracting is different,” Gansler said, explaining that products must often be purchased quickly from host-nation countries. “This means where it's appropriate, getting it right off the fields.”
Gansler asserted that this may mean that expeditionary contracting officers will need congressional relief from U.S. labor statutory provisions such as Buy American, the Berry Amendment and Specialty Metals. He said some such relief already has been provided in Iraq, but it is needed for the next contingency.
Gansler said that Congress also needs to change Civil Service provisions to ensure that contracting officers who volunteer to go to a war zone do not lose their life insurance and medical benefits.
Organization should be restructured
The commission outlined four areas that it deems critical to future contracting success:
- Increased stature, quantity and career development for contracting personnel—both military and civilian, particularly for expeditionary operations.
- Restructure of the organization and responsibility to facilitate contracting and contract management.
- Provide training and tools for overall contracting activities in expeditionary operations.
- Obtain legislative, regulatory and policy assistance to enable contracting effectiveness, important in expeditionary operations.
The commission also analyzed audits and investigations that identified contractors and government contracting officials for corrupt activity related to contingency contracting. Twenty-three military and civilian personnel face criminal charges or have been indicted in federal court, based on the investigations. Contracts valued at more than $6 billion have been affected.
As of Oct. 23, 83 Army criminal investigations relating to contract fraud in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan were ongoing. While the cases vary in complexity and severity, most involve bribery. There are confirmed bribes in excess of $15 million, according to the Army Criminal Investigation Command.
At the briefing, Gansler said that many of those who committed fraudulent acts were not actually contracting officers but personnel who were asked to oversee contracts as a secondary responsibility.
With training, management and oversight, fraud is less likely to occur, Gansler said.
“The overwhelming majority of our contracting work force, civilian and military, is doing an outstanding job under challenging circumstances,” Geren said. “But, we must do a better job resourcing and supporting them in their critical work. We will take the steps necessary to ensure that we execute our responsibility effectively, efficiently and consistently with Army values.”
Task force formed
Coinciding with the commission's strategic review, Geren formed a task force to review current contracting operations and to take immediate action where appropriate.
In a press release, the Army said it “has thoroughly reviewed the manning, resourcing, processes and programs of the U.S. Contracting Command Southwest Asia-Kuwait, and has developed a strategic plan for the future.”
“The plan is based on appropriate and increased staffing, enhanced training and the leveraging of technology to ensure incidences ofand contracting fraud are detected early and handled expeditiously,” the Army said.
“High-quality contracting and procurement must be an Army core competency”
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate that future military operations will involve large numbers of contractor personnel, Geren pointed out at the briefing. The Army has never fought an extended conflict that required this much to be outsourced, he noted. About half of the personnel currently deployed in Iraq are contractor employees. Contractors provide food services, interpreters, communications, equipment repair and other important services.
“High-quality contracting and procurement must be an Army core competency,” Geren said at the briefing. “The Army has an obligation to correct faults in this system; it is an obligation we take seriously. I deeply appreciate the good work of Dr. Gansler and his commission. We are responding positively and quickly to the commission's findings and recommendations.”