By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009
DynCorp International, a major government security contractor, is strengthening its ethics practices in the wake of government investigations of its programs in Afghanistan and other conflict zones.
One effort to train Afghan civilian police has drawn attention from the State Department's inspector general following incidents of questionable management oversight, including one instance in which expatriate DynCorp employees in Afghanistan hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance at a company farewell party and videotaped the event.
In response to such incidents and because senior executives had been discussing such a move, DynCorp in May established a position of chief compliance officer with a specific focus on ethics, business conduct, related investigations and regulatory compliance, company spokesman Douglas Ebner said.
"We're absolutely dedicated to a framework of governance and compliance that ensures a transparent and accountable business environment," Ebner said. "Whether it's misconduct, or public perception or allegations of misconduct, these can tarnish a company's ability to work in challenging environments."
"Don't mistake an individual act of misconduct for a corporate failure to respond," he added.
Falls Church-based DynCorp, the State Department's largest contractor, is profiting from the government's increased reliance on contractors overseas. Work in Iraq and Afghanistan alone accounted for 54 percent of the company's revenue, which hit $3.1 billion in the fiscal year ended in April. That represented a 45 percent rise in revenue over the preceding year, according to the company's annual report.
DynCorp has held contracts worth $1.6 billion to train Afghan police. Its performance on the current contract will be evaluated in any effort to compete in a major $345 million civilian police training bid in Afghanistan that the State Department is expected to put out in January, State Department officials said.
The Afghan police initiative is part of the Obama administration's strategy to build up the Afghan security forces in an effort to turn back a resurgent Taliban and stabilize the country. The company has been at the center of a string of controversies stretching back to the 1990s, prompting critics to question whether DynCorp and other contractors should be performing and managing critical jobs.
This spring, the State Department inspector general began investigating whether DynCorp ignored signs of drug abuse among expatriate employees in Afghanistan. A related review into the dancing incident is "substantially completed" and "at this point, no criminal activity has been discovered," said Douglas Welty, State Department inspector general spokesman.
Ebner said the company also had investigated the incident involving the youth, who he said was 17 when he performed a tribal dance at the party. "We took appropriate disciplinary actions as a result of what we felt was managerial poor judgment," he said.
DynCorp fired four senior managers in Afghanistan over the party and other incidents, according to employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.
At least two videos were shot of the dancing at the farewell party in April at a DynCorp base in Kunduz, in northeastern Afghanistan, according to DynCorp employees who have seen copies. One version, according to several who have seen it, showed some 15 DynCorp personnel egging on the dancer, who came from a nearby village and was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, with a long scarf tied around his waist, as he moved around a DynCorp employee sitting on a single chair in a courtyard.
"The whole event, hiring an Afghan dancer to perform for a non-Afghan audience, we felt could be seen as culturally insensitive and an example of poor judgment," Ebner said.
The State Department informed the Afghan Ministry of Interior of the incident, according to a U.S. government official. The ministry is investigating, an official there said Sunday. "Everyone was shocked," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The inspector general opened his probe in the wake of the March death of an American DynCorp security team leader in Kabul. Toxicology reports confirmed that the team leader died of a heroin overdose, a government official said. DynCorp declined to comment on the case.
The State Department and Pentagon inspectors general last month began a separate audit of State's police training contract with DynCorp in Afghanistan. And the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction has launched a fresh review of State's oversight of a $2 billion DynCorp police training contract in Iraq.
Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution expert on wartime contracting, said the government has turned to contractors for police training because it lacks sufficient in-house personnel. If the government had a civilian reserve corps of professionals with police training skills, for example, it could be tapped in place of private firms with their "associated oversight and legal accountability concerns."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.