IG Faults Oversight of Security in Iraq - State Dept. Might Have Violated Rules
Saturday, January 10, 2009
The State Department may have violated federal regulations in turning over management aspects of its multibillion-dollar private security contract in Iraq to other contractors, the department's inspector general concludes in a report released yesterday.
The report, produced by a regional IG office established last year to keep closer watch on expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security had been "highly effective in ensuring the safety" of diplomatic personnel in Iraq. There have been no casualties among U.S. diplomatic and civilian officials protected by contractors under the bureau's supervision.
"However," it says, "the rapid rise in use and scale of private security contractors has strained the Department's ability to effectively manage them." Department efforts, the IG found, were "undermined by frequent staff turnover, understaffing, increased workload, and the lack of standardized operating policies and procedures."
Contracts require security companies to submit "muster sheets" verifying personnel are present and available for work. But the report says contracting and government security officers did not effectively review the sheets. Although contractors had "recurring difficulties" maintaining their staffs of marksmen, emergency services technicians and interpreters, the department "never invoked the financial deduct penalty clause for this violation."
The report says contractors had been hired to keep track of government equipment supplied to security contractors in Iraq -- including more than 500 vehicles, 7,500 weapons, $4 million in annual ammunition purchases and "sensitive communications items." The contracting of this "inherently governmental function," it says, was a possible violation of federal acquisition regulations.
Patrick F. Kennedy, undersecretary for management at the State Department, said, "The department takes any review seriously, but always looks at the context in which operations are taking place." Officials emphasized the report's conclusion that diplomatic personnel had been effectively protected.
The report does not address the specific performance of any of the three security firms State employs in Iraq -- Blackwater Worldwide, Triple Canopy and DynCorp International, which in turn have a total of 1,290 security workers there. Blackwater, with 968 employees in Iraq as of September, is by far the largest and handles diplomatic security in the capital and much of the central part of the country.
There is no mention of the indictment last month of six Blackwater guards in a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad that left at least 14 Iraqi civilians dead. The incident led Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to change procedures for guarding diplomatic convoys and to calls to cancel Blackwater's contract when it is due for review this spring. An umbrella Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract covers the State Department's relationship with the three companies, each of which is capped at $1.2 billion in payments over a five-year period, with annual reviews, for services in Iraq and elsewhere. The current contract was first signed in 2005.
The IG found that neither the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad nor the Bureau of Diplomatic Security had reviewed how many security contractors were needed or where they should be deployed since the embassy opened in June 2004 -- a period of rapid security change, for better and for worse, in Iraq. Last August in Kirkuk, for example, investigators found 14 guards assigned to protect one Foreign Service officer. In the embassy's Basra regional office, 113 security contractors were assigned to guard personnel who had left their fortified military base only five times since January. At Tallil Air Base, north of Basra, "there were no security protection movements for more than six consecutive months despite the 30 to 53 security specialists stationed there," the report says.
Officials interviewed by inspectors "explained the high operational tempo in Iraq limited their ability to make an in-depth assessment of security requirements and determine whether the current configuration of security assets still made sense."