Military Restructures Afghanistan Police Contract

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Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 6:00 am
U.S. soldiers train Afghan police in Herat. (EPA/ZUMApress.com)

U.S. soldiers train Afghan police in Herat. (EPA/ZUMApress.com)

An obscure Army contracting office with ties to the private security firm Blackwater has formally lost control of a lucrative contract to train Afghan police, the Pentagon and U.S. military officials in Afghanistan confirmed to TWI.

[Security1] The office, known as the Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office or CNTPO, came under criticism from the Government Accountability Office earlier this month for having only a marginal relationship to the training of Afghan police. CNTPO has responsibility for the military’s counternarcotics efforts, not the training of foreign military forces, and only received control over the contract after the U.S. military last year moved to take it away from the State Department and sought to rapidly award the contract to one of the five companies with which it does business — one of which is Blackwater.

That bureaucratic shift prompted a protest from State’s contractor, DynCorp, which stood to lose millions from the switch and argued that a counternarcotics office was an improper choice to award a contract for police training services. On March 15, the Government Accountability Office agreed, formally saying that the military’s solicitations were “outside the scope of [CNTPO's] existing contracts” according to a top GAO procurement official, Ralph O. White. But GAO also did not formally say that CNTPO had to be stripped of its contract authority, creating confusion over the future of the contract.

According to several officials, the U.S./NATO military command in Afghanistan responsible for training Afghan security forces, known as NTM-A or CSTC-A, have decided keeping CNTPO involved would invite the same complaints that prompted GAO to scotch a contract worth up to $1 billion. “NTM-A/CSTC-A has seen the GAO ruling, is reviewing it and evaluating how to proceed in a manner that most effectively meets legal requirements and advances the key goal of helping to train an effective Afghan National Police Force,” said Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman.

Reached in Kabul for comment, Lt. Col. David Hylton, a spokesman for NTM-A/CSTC-A, confirmed that “we’re reevaluating how to proceed.” Hylton added that every aspect of the contract was up for discussion within the command, and he guessed that no decisions would be made about even how to move forward with the bidding process until mid-April at the earliest.

The contract first garnered attention last month, when CNTPO’s connection to Blackwater appeared in a late-February Politico story. The same day the story ran, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report accusing Blackwater employees of improperly taking hundreds of rifles and pistols for personal use out of a U.S. military weapons depot in Afghanistan intended to supply those very same Afghan policemen.

Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, observed that the military “tried to fit a square peg into a round hole” by giving a counter-narcoterrorism office awarding duties for a police training contract. “The best case scenario now is that this [contract] will operate through an open process that will allow anyone to come to the table,” Amey said.

CNTPO initially got the contract because its existing relationships with the five security contractors meant that it could rapidly award a bid for a mission identified by the military as vital to the U.S. war effort, a process that entailed restricting the eligible pool of bidders. “If the government has an immediate need, it could conduct a limited competition with vendors with proven capabilities” to meet the contract requirements, Amey said.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has identified that need as immediate. “There’s a shortage of trainers,” McChrystal said at a press briefing on March 17. “And we have been very unequivocal in our statement of that, both to Washington, D.C., and of course, more appropriately, to NATO.”

DynCorp’s old contract with the State Department expires in August. Hylton said NTM-A/CSTC-A had not yet made a decision on whether to seek a temporary extension of DynCorp’s contract. Col. John Ferrari, a senior officer in the training command’s programs directorate, was in charge of the decision-making process for the revised contract.

A spokesman for DynCorp, Jason Rossbach, said that the company — which the Iraq inspector general has criticized, along with the State Department, for negligent book-keeping over the police-training contract — awaited the outcome of NTM-A/CSTC-A’s contract restructuring. “We’re interested in bidding, whatever the government decides to do,” Rossbach said.

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