Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan Have Doubled in Just Six Months
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is holding a hearing right now about contractors in Afghanistan before a Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee. (I regret I can’t cover it right now, but you can watch it live here.) Still, the senator’s staff has prepared a memo about the parlous state of contractor oversight in Afghanistan and it contains some alarming trends. For instance:
From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.
That figure comes from a Pentagon study from last month. It’s a dramatic uptick. More disturbing still, the memo doesn’t explain the relationship between those security contractors and the military chain of command. Are they required to adhere to Gen. McChrystal’s intent to protect the Afghan civilian population? If not, how to mitigate their potential damage to the mission?
Additionally, the Obama administration is trying to shift the majority of its development aid into quick-impact agricultural sectors. But McCaskill’s staff found a lot of problems with USAID’s agricultural contracts:
In November 2006, USAID awarded a four-year, $102 million contract to Chemonics International, Inc., to implement the Accelerating Sustainable Agriculture Program, a program to improve agricultural production and efficiency in rural Afghanistan. Although the contractor has reported progress, the USAID Inspector General found that the contractor could not adequately support its reports and that the contractor had failed to comply with some contract requirements.
According to the USAID Inspector General, Chemonics “had inadequate support” for its report that 1,719 individuals had received agricultural training, and “no support” that its activities had created an economic value of more than $59 million. The Inspector General also reported that a $40 million initiative to cultivate land for a commercial farm was behind schedule.
I don’t know if Amb. Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has canceled this contract. But he’s indicated a general sense that he wants USAID to deal directly with government officials and not through contractors, a position that has earned him some rebuke from USAID. McCaskill’s staff, however, has found that in many cases USAID is asking contractors to look out for waste, fraud and abuse against … other contractors, rather than expanding its own base of contract oversight personnel.
Finally, a Defense Department contractor agency has reviewed about $5.9 billion worth of Afghanistan contracts controlled by the department. And of that, the auditors have identified more than $950 million in “questioned and unsupported costs” by Defense contractors. That’s 16 percent of what the auditors have examined so far.