Does the State Department have the capacity to effectively manage an embassy security contract in a war zone?
It depends on your definition of effective. A previously unreleased report by the Department of State Office of Inspector General (IG), made public today by POGO, found shortcoming after shortcoming in State’s ability to effectively monitor Triple Canopy, the contractor responsible for guarding the U.S. Baghdad Embassy. The report gave POGO a case of Kabul déjà vu.
The audit found that significant training and language deficiencies in the Triple Canopy guard force violated the contract and compromised security at the Baghdad Embassy. Conditions for guards at Camp Olympia—the temporary facility where many of the guards are housed—were "unsafe," included "four times the acceptable number of guards residing in a room" and "frayed electrical wires in high traffic areas." In the most serious case, there was an electrocution death there in September 2009.
Triple Canopy’s guards also reported working an average of 10 to 11 consecutive days, and the IG found that some worked as many as 39 days in a row.
In the areas in which State conducted the most oversight, Triple Canopy performed well. But the audit found that in the areas in which State had little oversight—such as training and English language proficiency—the contractor’s performance failed to meet contract requirements.
Nonetheless, the audit concludes that the contract is “generally well-managed.”
A number of the problems identified in the audit echo those uncovered by POGO at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. For instance, in Kabul we found that “chronic understaffing” plagued the Embassy guard force, run by Armor Group North America (AGNA). In some cases, the shortage of guards resulted in some guards working “14-hour-day work cycles extending for as many as eight weeks in a row, frequently alternating between day and night shifts.” We also found a significant problem with the ability of the AGNA guard to communicate with each other, as is the case in Baghdad.
While in both Baghdad and Kabul it would be easy to lay the blame for all these shortcomings solely on the contractors, the audit seems to suggest, and we agree, that the blame ultimately rests with State.
In light of the importance of effective oversight, we find it shocking, as we noted earlier this week, that the State Department appears to be planning to “augment” its oversight of the security contractors in Kabul with a contractor.
-- Jake Wiens