By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007
An independent commission said yesterday that the U.S. Army needs to conduct a major overhaul of its procurement system and add at least 1,400 military and civilian contracting personnel.
The commission delivered a 100-page report detailing its recommendations and findings to Army Secretary Pete Geren in a Pentagon briefing. Geren created the group this summer after investigations revealed the biggest contracting bribery case in the Iraq reconstruction effort. He chose Jacques S. Gansler, undersecretary of defense acquisition, technology and logistics under President Bill Clinton, to head the panel.
"It's a cultural change we're advocating," Gansler said. "There needs to be more oversight, leadership and training to make sure they at least know what they're doing."
Over the past 45 days, the commission interviewed 100 military commanders, auditors and other military personnel and civilians who work in contracting, including some in Iraq. It also talked to procurement officials at major government contracting companies, including CACI International, KBR and Fluor.
The panel found that the military failed to adequately train enough contracting officers, deployed troops too quickly to Afghanistan and Iraq, and failed to put in place proper oversight of the billions of dollars they oversee.
The report said the "failures . . . significantly contributed to the waste, fraud and abuse."
Army officials said there are 83 ongoing criminal investigations related to contract fraud in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. Twenty-three military and civilian personnel face criminal charges, and about $15 million in bribes has been uncovered.
A major problem, Gansler said, is that 3 percent of the Army's contracting personnel are on active duty, which means the service has had to rely more on civilians or put military personnel who may not be trained in buying goods and services in those jobs quickly.
Half of the Army and civilian personnel who are working in procurement are adequately trained for the job, the report said. In Iraq, 38 percent are properly trained.
"They're not trained to do it. They're not used to doing it," Gansler said. "It's a little hard when someone hands them a bag of money and says, 'Manage this.' A little might fall out."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was briefed on the report Wednesday, said he was "dismayed by a lot of the findings and encouraged by the path forward offered by the recommendations." Gates said he plans to launch an effort to address "deficiencies in contracting" that are impacting not only the Army but the entire Department of Defense, in part by significantly strengthening the Defense Contract Management Agency.
He said he planned to put John Young, the deputy undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, in charge of that effort.
Gates said that some of the problems with contractor management stemmed from a dramatic drop in the number of Pentagon acquisition personnel, starting in the mid-1990s, as a result of congressional pressure and that in the Army in particular "contracting expertise began to fade away as a desirable career track." All military services will need to determine whether they have enough military officers trained and available to manage contracting in combat zones, where deploying civilians is less feasible, he said.
Another task force Gansler created is looking at about 6,000 contracts that were issued at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait since 2003 in search of waste, fraud and abuse. The contracts were worth $2.8 billion.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the commission found that military and civilian personnel were often thrown into complex procurement situations that they knew little about. It said the Army should restructure its procurement operations, creating positions that would put more top-level personnel in charge.
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.