Wartime Contracting Commission Urges Legal Fix for Embassy Security
Remember ArmorGroup, the negligence-and-fraud-prone security contractor that’s responsible for protecting the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan? When last I checked in, the State Department was reviewing its contract — yes, again — and dangling the possibility that it might finally revoke the deal after credible allegations emerged of widespread incompetence, dabbling in prostitution, the inability of its guards to speak English and so forth. Now the congressionally empaneled Wartime Contracting Commission is going after the legal underpinnings that allow the State Department to keep hiring the Blackwaters and ArmorGroups of the private-security industry to protect the embassy.
In a new report, the commission finds a sentence in federal contracting law from 1990 provides a key stipulation. The law requires the State Department to use a “lowest price, technically acceptable” standard for awarding contracts worth over $250,000 for protecting its key installations. And there you have it: minimally competent and cheap is what you expect of the people charged with ensuring no one attacks an embassy, rather than a “best-value” standard. From a prepared statement accompanying the report, commissioners explain what the problem is:
“The lowest?price, technically acceptable standard may work fine if you’re buying low?value, non?critical things like office supplies,” said Commission Co?Chair Michael Thibault, “but it’s a questionable standard for more complicated purchases like construction projects or embassy security.
Most federal departments can operate on the sensible principle that best value for contract dollars means more than picking the lowest price. Forcing the State Department to make decisions on an artificially narrow basis does not serve the public interest.”
The report concedes that removing the provision wouldn’t prevent State from hiring the worst of the worst for so-called static security. But it would at least remove an incentive for hiring them, and additionally removes an incentive for contractors to deliberately underbid their services to win contracts, resulting in slipshod performance out at the embassies as the companies attempt to match what they told State they’d need to get the job done. All of that happened with ArmorGroup in Afghanistan. Accordingly, it urges Congress to issue a “quick response” to its report, as it’s getting near time for State to award its next round of embassy-security contracts.
Update: This post has been corrected for clarity. It’s not that the provision gives State an out; it gives State a requirement. Mea culpa.