Army Opens Review of Contracts in Kuwait

Team of Specialists at U.S. Base to Delve Into Awards Worth Nearly $3 Billion

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007; Page D03

U.S. Army officials said they are conducting an extensive review and analysis of thousands of contracts that were performed at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait over the past four years, as allegations of procurement fraud and bribery at the base have erupted.

A team of contracting officers will look at a random sample of about 6,000 contracts, worth $2.8 billion, in search of waste, fraud and abuse, according to the co-chairmen of a newly formed contracting task force.

"The whole purpose is to methodically go through and determine if there's anything else that hasn't already been picked up as a result of an audit or formal investigation," Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III said in an interview yesterday at Fort Belvoir. Thompson is helping lead the Army's internal review.

Ninety-one boxes of paperwork, weighing more than 2,600 pounds, were flown this week to a major acquisition center at an Army base in Warren, Mich. A team of contracting specialists, including auditors and fraud investigators, plan to look over any contracts worth more than $25,000 each for things like trash pickup, dining operations, and transporting trucks and other equipment to Iraq. Contracts worth less than $25,000 will be checked by specialists at Arifjan.

The review is to be completed by late December.

Reviewers are expected to search for such irregularities as missing signatures, overcharges, missing documentation and limited-competition purchases.

The massive procurement review at Arifjan comes after investigations of fraud and abuse in the $44.5 billion reconstruction effort in Iraq. In the largest case, Army Maj. John L. Cockerham was charged in July with conspiracy, money-laundering and bribery for allegedly taking $9.6 million from contractors in return for giving companies favorable deals while he worked as a contracting officer at Arifjan in 2004.

The Army is pursuing 83 criminal investigations involving contract fraud and abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Twenty-three military and civilian Army employees have been indicted.

The Army task force has begun making recommendations for change, such as stationing contract specialists with military units overseas. Another proposed change would have contracts for goods and services in Kuwait and Qatar valued at more than $1 million awarded and overseen by officials at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., instead of at facilities within each country.

Thompson, who is military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, was appointed in August by Army Secretary Pete Geren to head the internal task force. He co-heads the group with Kathryn A. Condon, executive deputy to the commanding general at the Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir.

The biggest problem, Thompson and Condon said, has been keeping up with the pace of procurement for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"As the contracting dollars grew and the deals became more and more complex, the expertise wasn't where it needed to be," Thompson said.

Condon added, "We didn't have the number of people to handle the surge in purchases."

The Army has gone from having one base camp in Kuwait that spent $150 million in 2002 to having eight that make about $1 billion in annual purchases. At Arifjan, for example, there were two dozen contracting officers and staff members at the start of the war. By last April, shortly after contracting problems were found, there were 55 officers and staff members.

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