By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Lawmakers grilled representatives of the State Department and a private security firm yesterday on the details and administration of a contract to provide protective services at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, suggesting that the company's deficiencies in the past two years may have placed the compound at risk of an attack.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William H. Moser told a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight that the State Department this month will renew its agreement with ArmorGroup North America (AGNA), despite lingering concerns about weapons shortages, the company's training programs and the poor English-language skills of some guards, mostly Nepalese Gurkhas.
"Effective contract administration in a war zone is challenging," Moser said at the hearing.
According to documents provided by the subcommittee, State Department officials first raised concerns about AGNA's performance 19 days into the agreement. Contracting officers wrote to company officials that a shortage of guards and armored vehicles threatened to "endanger performance of the contract to such a degree that the security of the U.S. embassy in Kabul is in jeopardy."
In August, the State Department questioned the company's ability to respond in the aftermath of a major incident and suggested that it lacked contingency plans if faced with a personnel shortage due to the resignation, illness or death of guards in an attack.
Subcommittee Chairman Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) yesterday agreed with the decision to renew the AGNA contract, despite reservations about the company's performance.
"The Kabul embassy contract can be viewed as a case study on how mismanagement and lack of oversight can result in poor performance," she said. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs established McCaskill's ad-hoc panel in January to investigate government contracting abuse.
Though the Marines and the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security provide embassy protection, the government contracts out some security responsibilities at several overseas outposts. In July 2007, the State Department awarded a five-year, $189.3 million contract to AGNA, which is now a subsidiary of Wackenhut. The contract was for one base year with the option to renew for four years.
Wackenhut Vice President Samuel Brinkley defended his company's performance yesterday, noting that it has addressed the government's concerns since it acquired AGNA in May 2008. He expressed frustration, however, with the contract's financial arrangements, noting that Wackenhut loses $1 million per month on the agreement.
"I have become convinced that we cannot provide the services required by the contract for the contract price," he said. Despite those concerns, the company has not asked the State Department to terminate the agreement.
"We have worked very hard in the last year to make this contract compliant. We're very proud of it. We can do this job," Brinkley said.
Several former AGNA employees have also questioned the company's performance. In 2007, James Sauer and Peter Martino alerted State Department and company officials to problems with embassy protection. They have since filed a wrongful termination suit, alleging they were dismissed for raising concerns.
Another former employee, James Gordon, last month brought similar allegations to the attention of the subcommittee. Until February 2008 Gordon served as director of operations at AGNA's Northern Virginia headquarters.
"He was driven out of the company because he insisted on doing his job with honesty and integrity and leveling with the government," his attorney, Janet Goldstein, said in an interview this week. Gordon is weighing his legal options against the company, she said.