By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The State Department has ordered DynCorp International to replace the senior managers in charge of a major police training contract in Afghanistan after it launched an investigation into the company's handling of an employee who died of a possible drug overdose, government officials said.
The probe involves allegations that the company ignored signs of drug abuse among employees. The investigation centers on the death of a security team leader working under DynCorp's 18-month, $317 million civilian police training contract, a key element of the U.S. government's effort to rebuild Afghanistan in the wake of the 2001 removal of the Taliban from power.
DynCorp is the State Department's largest contractor, holding billions of dollars in contracts, and the department is the Falls Church-based firm's single largest customer. The department ordered the company to put in new managers to ensure accountability, officials said.
"The State Department takes these allegations of contractor misconduct extremely seriously, expects all contractors to adhere to a zero-tolerance policy for individual misconduct, and insists that management act accordingly when violations occur," acting State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
The 49-year-old employee, whose name is being withheld by The Washington Post because the investigation is at a preliminary stage, was found dead in his quarters at company housing in Kabul on March 17, company officials said. Investigators are looking into a number of allegations, including that the employee procured drugs on monthly trips to Thailand, and that his superiors were aware of his conduct and failed to take action despite the company's zero-tolerance policy for drugs, several sources briefed on the matter said.
The probe also involves allegations that the employee was arrested by Thai police in March for stealing a $14,000 watch; that employees who spoke about the issue to State Department officials were threatened with retaliation by supervisors; and that company drug testing following the man's death resulted in four other employees testing positive, the sources said.
The case comes as the Obama administration ramps up its effort in Afghanistan and as the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs prepares to put out to bid a new $345 million civilian police training contract.
If the allegations are substantiated, said INL Assistant Secretary David T. Johnson, they "represent a clear breakdown in the company's internal controls" with respect to employee conduct.
On Thursday, Johnson called in corporate managers from DynCorp's Falls Church office to demand "immediate, effective change," he said.
DynCorp spokesman Douglas Ebner said he would not comment on personnel actions during an investigation. "We go to extraordinary efforts to instill upon all management, as well as all employees, our absolute priority of zero-tolerance for all misconduct," he said. "If they violate these standards, we will terminate. We take seriously any allegations. We fully investigate any such cases brought to our attention."
The case was referred to the State Department inspector general's office by both agency personnel in the country and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose members went to Afghanistan earlier this month to look into issues involving contract oversight and abuse.
The case "is a classic example" of the type of issue that the bipartisan commission was established by Congress to look into, commissioner Clark Ervin said. "The notion that a contractor was allegedly engaged in drug abuse . . . and that this was known to DynCorp and not summarily dealt with and promptly disclosed to the government is very troubling," he said.
The inspector general's public affairs officer, Douglas Welty, had no comment on the investigation.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.