By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010; A06
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has issued a strong warning to the Defense Department over plans to award $1 billion in new contracts to the firm formerly known as Blackwater, accusing managers of the private security company of lying to win lucrative jobs in Afghanistan.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) also cited a history of allegedly abusive behavior by Blackwater employees, including misappropriation of government weapons and hiring of workers with criminal records that included assault and drug offenses.
Levin did not directly say that the Pentagon should cancel its plans for the contracts but urged officials to "consider the deficiencies" in Blackwater's performance before making a final decision.
The firm's inadequacies "appear to have . . . undermined our mission in Afghanistan," the senator said in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Levin released the letter Thursday after an investigation by his committee raised questions about efforts by Xe Services, as Blackwater is now known, to seek defense contracts to train Afghan National Army troops.
The company bid for the job through a subsidiary known as Paravant.
In applying for the contracts, Paravant submitted statements saying it had years of experience and a strong cadre of trained, thoroughly screened instructors. In reality, Paravant was a shell company created solely to conceal Xe's involvement and to avoid what one executive with the firm "called the 'baggage' associated with the Blackwater name," according to a statement issued by Levin's office.
Evidence gathered by Levin's investigators raised "very serious questions about Blackwater's conduct," the senator said in the letter to Gates.
In a separate letter, also released Thursday, Levin called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to launch an investigation into contract practices by Xe and Raytheon, which had hired Blackwater as a subcontractor.
"If the Army contracting officer had known he was approving a subcontract with Blackwater, perhaps he would have taken . . . the company's lack of credibility into account when deciding to approve that subcontract," Levin said in the letter.
Joseph Yorio, president and chief executive of Xe, acknowledged in a statement that there had been "management mistakes in the Paravant program." He said the problems had prompted a top-to-bottom review of company practices.
Yorio, who testified last week before Levin's committee, also noted that Xe had successfully trained thousands of Afghan troops.
"Xe . . . has provided critical assistance in the vital United States effort to create a safe and stable Afghanistan," he said.