Despite Concerns, Pentagon Seeks Civilian Firm to Oversee Contractors

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 2008

Shortly after an inspector general questioned the practice of the Pentagon issuing contracts to administer contracts, the U.S. Army began advertising this week for an American firm to manage oversight of private security companies in Afghanistan.

As it did in Iraq, the Army is increasingly turning to contractors to provide security services in Afghanistan, duties that include protecting American forward operating bases and the growing number of convoys bringing in supplies from Pakistan. The reliance on private security firms, and military management of the companies, became a political flashpoint last year when Blackwater Worldwide guards in Iraq killed at least 14 civilians and wounded 20 at Baghdad's Nisoor Square. Five of the guards have since been indicted on U.S. charges including voluntary manslaughter, and the sixth pleaded guilty.

The Pentagon's inspector general reported last month that the Defense Department was increasingly relying on contractors "to fill the gap from the reduced acquisition and oversight workforce, bordering on inherently governmental functions, thereby potentially taking on decision-making roles."

One such contract was put out for bid Monday by the Joint Contracting Center in Bagram, Afghanistan, which wants an American company to establish and run the Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate "in support of the Combined Joint Task Forces' contractor management initiative." That directorate would be "responsible for administering oversight, policy and reviewing procedures in all matters" concerning private security companies in the region, according to the proposal.

In that role, the contractor would be responsible for reporting on "any ongoing issues with regard to personnel [and] private security companies' incidents," the Bagram solicitation said. Tasks include monitoring the activity of private security companies, or PSCs, and working with Afghan Interior Ministry counterparts "in investigations concerning PSC escalation of force incidents."

Several of the listed requirements of the contract indicate that military officials "already have someone in mind," according to a prospective bidder who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is seeking other Army contracts involving Afghanistan. The bidder noted that the successful contractor must have military experience, speak Arabic and understand Afghan law.

Congress is searching for ways to shrink the amount of government contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. At lawmakers' direction, the Pentagon established a panel and charged it with looking for ways to reduce vulnerability to fraud, waste and abuse by contractors. And in the latest defense authorization bill, Congress sought a tighter definition of "inherently governmental functions."

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