Posts Tagged POGO

Industry Talk: Aegis Guards Speak In Kabul… And Their Leaders Should Have Listened

First off, bravo to these guards for voicing their concerns and holding their company and leaders accountable. I also want to say thanks to POGO for putting this out there, both on their blog and over at Foreign Policy magazine.

As I read through this post, it looks to me like the company’s leaders have done a terrible job of listening to their guard force’s concerns about security or even about the day to day operations of the company. And if the actions of the company and these leaders are causing folks to leave, then that only creates more problems for the guys on the ground because they work more hours and get burned out.

Another point I want to bring up is that today’s security contracting industry is filled with combat seasoned contractors who know exactly what is needed to actually provide security in a war zone. If these guys are recognizing deficiencies in the security apparatus of the embassy, then it would behoove the leadership to listen to these concerns and make adjustments. Especially after such incidents like what happened in Benghazi.

They should be thanking these men for actually caring about the mission and the defense of the facility, and bringing these concerns forward. Instead, it looks like the ego of these leaders is more important and they have chosen to fire or reprimand those who actually spoke up. Shameful….

On that note, it makes no sense at all for a leader or leaders of a security force to not listen to this pool of combat veterans, security contractor veterans or police veterans, that when combined, would have years of experience and knowledge. It should be the goal of that leadership to tap into that pool of ‘human resource’, and take full advantage of that. To use that resource to build a better security apparatus or use it as part of their Kaizen or continuous improvement plan, and then reward that resource by giving them the credit and encouraging them to do it again and again. Call it collaboration or team work, and it works if you actually allow it to happen and know how to use it.

People will also support what they help to create, which is a Jundism. It is also a great way of showing that you are not a toxic leader.

Either way, we will see how this turns out? Obviously this is a black eye on the management of Aegis because it got to this level, and some changes are in order if they intend to hang onto this contract. -Matt

Edit: 01/24/2013- It sounds like four of the guards have filed a $5 million lawsuit against Aegis for being told to lie on their time sheets. The law firms they are using are The Employment Law Group and Lichten & Liss-Riordan. Here is a link to the court filing.

 

A “Mutiny” in Kabul: Guards Allege Security Problems Have Put Embassy at Risk
January 17, 2013
By Adam Zagorin
Private guards responsible for protecting what may be the most at-risk U.S. diplomatic mission in the world — the embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan — say security weaknesses have left it dangerously vulnerable to attack.
In interviews and written communications with the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), current and former guards said a variety of shortcomings, from inadequate weapons training to an overextended guard force, have compromised security there — security provided under a half-a-billion-dollar contract with Aegis Defense Services, the U.S. subsidiary of a British firm. “[I]f we ever got seriously hit [by terrorists], there is no doubt in my mind the guard force here would not be able to handle it, and mass casualties and mayhem would ensue,” a guard serving at the embassy wrote in a late November message to POGO.
“[I]f we ever got seriously hit [by terrorists], there is no doubt in my mind the guard force here would not be able to handle it, and mass casualties and mayhem would ensue.”
In July, dissatisfaction boiled over when more than 40 members of the embassy’s Emergency Response Team signed a petition sounding an alarm about embassy security, people familiar with the document said. The petition, submitted to the State Department and Aegis, expressed a “vote of no confidence” in three of the guard force leaders, accusing them of “tactical incompetence” and “a dangerous lack of understanding of the operational environment.” Two guards say they were quickly fired after organizing the petition, in what they called “retaliation.”
A State Department document obtained by POGO describes a “mutiny” among guards who defend the Kabul embassy — an apparent reference to the petition, though the document does not explicitly mention it. Dated July 18, 2012, and labeled “SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED,” the document says that the mutiny was “baseless” but that it “undermined the chain of command” and “put the security of the Embassy at risk.”

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Legal News: McCaskill, Webb Introduce Comprehensive Contracting Reform Legislation

Thanks to POGO for posting this news and I would love to hear some feedback from our community on this. As an American and as a tax payer, I am all about contracting reform that leads to savings and minimizing waste and fraud. As a contractor, I am also enthused because I want to see good companies rewarded, and poor companies punished in this industry. Any tools that help make this process called contingency contracting more efficient, an asset to national interest and security, and rewards good behavior/punishes bad when doing business with private industry, is a good thing.

Below I have posted two videos made by the Senators that describe this legislation and all of the work that went into it. POGO provided a basic summary of some of the key points in this legislation on their website and here is a PDF of the legislation.

I guess the only reservation I have is the secondary effects of legislation like this. It is very hard to tell how some of this stuff will impact the guy on the ground. Will it increase the quality of contracts out there?  Will it hinder my ability to provide security services on these contracts?  Will this legislation hamstring national security, or enhance it?

Another fear is that now that the wars are winding down, that the lessons learned about contracting during war time will disappear or be marginalized. They mentioned this fear in the videos below, and it is food for thought.

My final point is that bravo to both Senators for recognizing the value of contractors. We are the other ‘All Volunteer’ force that makes our current volunteer military system work. These wars would have been radically different if the forces and support forces were raised by a draft. I personally think that a military supported by a contractor force is far more effective than a ‘slave army’.

A slave army is one where many of the participants are there because they are forced to be there. There is quite the difference between a military and contractor force filled with folks who want to be there or want to fight, and a conscripted military partially filled with folks who do not want anything to do with fighting or being in a war.

This system makes all the difference for war planners and political leaders who need time and flexibility when fighting an enemy and/or country that is not easily defeated within a short period of time. They need that flexibility for the politics of war, and they need that flexibility when situations change dramatically in a war–like losing partners in a coalition.

Does it make it easier for a country to go to war?  Maybe. Or maybe we have developed a way of warfare that fits well within the mindset and fabric of a modern liberal democracy? It also fits well within the plans of strategists and leaders tasked with protecting this country and supporting national interest. -Matt


McCaskill, Webb Introduce Comprehensive Contracting Reform Legislation

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, Senators Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb introduced legislation to overhaul the federal government’s planning, management, and oversight of wartime contracting.  The Senators’ comprehensive reform legislation (S. 2139) builds on the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan – an independent, bipartisan panel that Senators McCaskill and Webb created through legislation they introduced in 2007.
Press release here.

 

 

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Industry Talk: AGNA Report News–Sloppy Reporting And Range Violations By The IG In Afghanistan

     A senior level review of the misconduct allegations against AGNA personnel, combined with AGNA’s history of contract compliance de?ciencies, led DS, AQM, and Embassy Kabul to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Government to compete a new contract. In light of recent legislation, the KESF contract has been combined with the Baghdad Embassy Security Force and Worldwide Personal Protective Services II (WPPS II) contracts into one base Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) contract.  The new WPS contract is a multi-award, inde?nite delivery, inde?nite quantity (IDIQ) contract that will be awarded on a best value basis. Individual requirements, such as the KESF, will be awarded as task orders under the base WPS contract. The current KESF contract with AGNA expired on June 30, 2010, but performance has been extended until the end of December 2010 to allow for the completion of the acquisition process for the new WPS contract and KESF task order and to provide for an orderly transition to the next provider. -From the Bureau of DS Comments in Report 

     What I wanted to do here is give the former contractors and managers of Armorgroup North America a chance to voice their opinion of the latest report. My inbox is filled with numerous emails from former employees and managers of AGNA, all wanting to tell their side of story. Partly because Congress, State or the IG really could care less about the little guy on the ground, and partly because the report is sloppy. So call this a rebuttal from the little guy.

     This particular email was from a former manager at AGNA, whose identity I will refer to as ‘former manager’. I would hope that this would have some significance to those that are reading this, and that what he has to say pretty much conflicts with what the IG is reporting. Specifically that the weapons issue pointed out in the report was lacking some key points, and that the IG violated the range rules during their inspection.

     I might also add that there is nothing in the report that discusses how AGNA came to be contracted in the first place. The Commission on Wartime Contracting came out with an excellent and damning report about how Lowest Priced, Technically Acceptable contracting is what created the environment that forced State to contract with the lowest bidder.

     It is also interesting to me that Danielle Brian of POGO still asserts that LPTA is a legitimate contracting mechanism for security contracting in war zones, when there has been several reports presented that have identified the horrific secondary affects of this type of contracting in war-zones.

     Best Value contracting would have given State more choice and flexibility in the matter, and they could have gone with the best company for the job and not with the cheapest or technically acceptable. It would not have been a race to the bottom, but a race to the best value company for the job.

    Furthermore, why is POGO so silent about the TWISS program, another example of the failure of LPTA? (did I mention that companies are now considering Sierra Leone contractors as guards because they are cheaper than Ugandans?) I know POGO reads the blog and I have directed everyone that has complained to me, to go to POGO and voice their concern. I would like to think that POGO would actually listen to what the guys on the ground have to say about such things?

     Or why is the Army using LPTA for FOB security in Afghanistan, when the CWC is so opposed to it? I posted a ton of contracts flying that were all LPTA, and here we are trying to convince Karzai to not ban PSC companies. With LPTA, we are giving him more ammunition by putting our lowest bidders, ‘junior varsity squads’ out there. Pffft.

     The other thing that pisses me off about LPTA, is that the troops see the direct result of this on the FOBs. How would you feel if you were being protected by the lowest bidder? It is a simple question, that pisses off most when they come to the conclusion that they don’t like it. Especially if their base has been attacked, like what has happened frequently in Afghanistan.

     LPTA doesn’t work for picking a doctor to cure your sick mother, and it doesn’t work for picking a company to protect your people in a war zone. LPTA is great for picking a company to rake your leaves though. lol You get what you pay for, and that is the lesson I got out of the reports.

    Thats not to say that State or AGNA doesn’t share any fault here, but Congress must take more blame, and all because they insisted on lowballing the security for Embassy protection in the first place.

    Finally, this post is about the guys on the ground who were contracted to operate in this environment. They are the ones that take on the task of trying to make this mess work. No one signs on to a contract to do bad. They sign on so they can be employed and pay their bills/feed their family at home. They sign on because they care about participating in the war. They are also sacrificing by being away from family, or facing death and injury in war-zones–and all for their country and for the war effort. We should support them, not hate them.

     Most guys whom have done the contracting thing for awhile have also worked for numerous companies. A contractor could have worked for Xe, Custer Battles, Erinys, Aegis, AGNA etc., and that is not abnormal nor does that mean the contractor is a bad guy. They are going where the work is so they can continue to earn a living and serve in the war. I am sure when EODT takes over this contract in Kabul, AGNA guys will be ‘switching t-shirts’ and transition under the management of this new company.

     I want to make sure that Congress, State, AGNA, and now EODT knows that these men need leaders who can manage a ‘properly funded, staffed, and equipped’ contract at all levels. These men are not the bad guys, and they deserve the best management we can give them.

     This work force will move mountains for you, if you actually apply a little Jundism to your management principles as well. Know your stuff, have the courage to do what is right, and take care of your people. Trust, but verify. Lead by example. Lead from the front. Your people will support what they help to create. Obtain feedback gold. Create a learning organization and gain a shared reality. Continuous improvement and customer service and satisfaction. Have fun.  All of this stuff is important, and all of it should be geared towards results and getting the job done. -Matt

 

From Former Manager at AGNA

     “Sorry I cannot be more forthcoming with dates and witnesses, most have left. A number of the team in Kabul are upset as great progress has been made and this is rarely acknowledged, we just get the old issues regurgitated and inaccurate reporting. No organisation, or individual, is perfect and mistakes will be made, but, this report is poor and has an impact on individuals and corporations. How can organizations be expected to work with the IG if they produce sloppy reports, it is counter productive. Instead of working on ways to improve the contracting process and performance; it erodes it – people do not put things in writing, everyone tries to cover their backs all the time, every decision takes a long time/ or make poor ones, as people try to assess what an inspector or congressman (who has to be re-elected every two years) might say three years from now and with 20/20 hindsight.”

From IG Report In Regards To The Firing Range

      AGNA does not adequately maintain training records. AGNA firearms instructors failed to sufficiently instruct guards to help correct firing errors. Instructors also qualified guards who did not achieve the minimum qualifying score at the firing range.

From Former Manager at AGNA

     “There are other areas that need to be looked at – such as the statement that AGNA fails to conduct weapon training properly – how can they make this a key finding from a visit to one range? The same range the inspector is removed from the firing line by a former ranger chief instructor for moving in front of the firing line. The same inspector who, in front of the project manager, grabbed an M4 from a guard to check the serial number, not checking the weapon status/ clearing it and muzzle sweeping personnel in the process – we would be disciplined for handling a weapon in this way. How can they say AGNA put guards on post who failed the weapons qual, without checking the source documentation? (which they found difficult to navigate but did not ask the training staff to assist them in finding). Have you looked at the equation they used with regard to rifle quals? It makes no sense to me and I believe the two personnel they say failed actually had passed if you looked at the source document, not the spreadsheet where results are collated. They say guards were on post for 8 months without training, yet they interviewed some of these guards, I would imagine that they should have asked them if they had undergone training and when? If they were trained prior to standing post (which they were) then it is an issue of maintenance of records, which is still a problem to be highlighted and resolved, but does not effect the security of the Embassy.”

From IG Report In Regards To Weapons

     AGNA’s current control of U.S. Government-furnished property is generally satisfactory, but AGNA cannot account for 101 U.S. Government-furnished weapons that have been missing since 2007. Additionally, from July 2007 until September 2009, AGNA used U.S. Government-furnished weapons to train guards when contractor-furnished weapons were required by its contract. OIG calculates that AGNA’s loss and misuse of these U.S. Government-furnished weapons cost the government $431,000.

*****

     OIG found that AGNA cannot account for 101 U.S. Government-furnished assault ri?es of a lot of 116 that was to be returned to the U.S. Government in July 2007 under a contract modi?cation. OIG found one missing assault ri?e of this lot under a desk in an AGNA of?ce. The photo on the right in Figure 3 shows the assault ri?e as found under the desk. DS was able to locate an addition 14 weapons that had been transferred to other State Department of?ces and US Government agencies. Neither AGNA nor DS could provide documentation verifying the return or location of the remaining 101 assault ri?es. OIG calculates this assault ri?e lot is worth approximately $50,000.

     According to correspondence between the Department and AGNA management, from July 2007 until September 2009, AGNA did not provide a suf?cient number of contractor-furnished weapons to the KESF guards. Instead, AGNA used U.S. Government-furnished weapons for training, although the contract required contractor-furnished weapons (U.S. Government-furnished weapons are to be used for guard duty). AGNA and the Department negotiated a ?nancial settlement in which AGNA was to reimburse the U.S. Government $381,000 for the use of these weapons. However, OIG reviewed invoices and found that AGNA has not yet reimbursed the Department. DS of? cials con?rmed that AGNA has yet to reimburse the Department.

From Former Manager at AGNA

     “The original contract and mod 1 contained 116 soviet block weapons that were used on the previous contract, before the Govt supplied US weapons. As these weapons were not going to be used on the program DoS moved them to their own storage unit prior to 1 July 2007 (when AGNA took responsibility for the contract). Consequently these weapons were never part of the equipment handover and AGNA did not sign for them on handover. Because of this the contract was modified in mid July 2007 reflecting this. How can AGNA provide handover documentation for items they were never responsible for? It seems as if the IG assumed AGNA was responsible because the contract mod was mid July, but that is a poor assumption, and the IG was informed of the situation by DS.”

     “From what I understand DoS then gave AGNA some of the weapons (7 or so) to use for identification training (they were generally kept on the training/ briefing room in full view), but they were demilitarized (welded bolt, soldered and bent barrel etc). One of these weapons is the one seen in the photograph in the report. Other weapons were sent to the US for use at DS facilites and the rest were disposed of, although I do not know how. Most of the people involved in this are DoS personnel who oversaw the program handover. Those from AGNA have since left the company. However, with all the scrutiny on this program you would think that DoS would have mentioned AGNA ‘losing’ 100+ weapons before now…”

Comments from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in Report

     A senior level review of the misconduct allegations against AGNA personnel, combined with AGNA’s history of contract compliance de?ciencies, led DS, AQM, and Embassy Kabul to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Government to compete a new contract. In light of recent legislation, the KESF contract has been combined with the Baghdad Embassy Security Force and Worldwide Personal Protective Services II (WPPS II) contracts into one base Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) contract.  The new WPS contract is a multi-award, inde?nite delivery, inde?nite quantity (IDIQ) contract that will be awarded on a best value basis. Individual requirements, such as the KESF, will be awarded as task orders under the base WPS contract. The current KESF contract with AGNA expired on June 30, 2010, but performance has been extended until the end of December 2010 to allow for the completion of the acquisition process for the new WPS contract and KESF task order and to provide for an orderly transition to the next provider.

Link to report here.

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Industry Talk: Triple Canopy and DoS In The Hot Seat Over Iraq Embassy Issues

   First off, I want to thank all the contractors who are sending tips to POGO and the IG and revealing what is really going on with this contract. POGO will gladly take whatever you got, if it is pertinent to the embassy contract. If the company or DoS does not want to do the right thing with this contract and take care of their people or manage the contract properly, then I say report it.

   I also want to bring up a tidbit that one of the media rags brought up, that I thought was telling.  Here is the quote:

 

      A footnote buried in the report suggests that Triple Canopy officials may have tried to impede State Department investigators from getting the full story. Prior to a site visit by IG investigators, according to the report, Triple Canopy’s Iraq program manager, deputy program manager, and guard force commander coached the company’s guards on how they should respond to questions about working conditions and other matters. They circulated a memo containing “Pre-Inspection Guidance” that warned the guards about saying too much and contained what appears to be a thinly veiled threat:

     “Answer to break question for guards is 15 minutes morning, 30 minutes lunch, and 15 minutes afternoon. DO NOT SAY: “I do not have a relief supervisor today.” Instead, and only if asked, I am sharing a relief supervisor with (name other venue). Do not elaborate on answers to inspectors questions. Answer only the questions. What you say can and will be used against you.”

 

   If there is any question at all about how ineffective ‘open inspections that are broadcasted’ are, this would be it.  Managers of companies will obviously prep their people to answer the inspector’s questions, so that it will make the company look good or hide issues.  If inspectors want to know what is really going on, they either need to do surprise inspections or use mystery employees.  Another way is to just have a toll free number or email that contractors can use anonymously.  I would also have that information accessible by multiple inspectors, so that one inspector can’t just sweep that information under the rug and not do anything about it. Another idea is for contractors to just CC emails, and put POGO on that list, as well as multiple inspectors–just so everyone knows ‘that everyone knows’.  I guess my point is, is if DoS really cares about what is going on with the contract, there are all sorts of ways of figuring out the real deal.

   I also want to talk about living quarters and english proficiency.  I totally agree that if the contract states that contractors must have a certain standard for living quarters, then that standard should be met.  TC and DoS are both at fault there for not caring about their contractors.

   With that said, it is a war zone and living in poor conditions kind of comes with the territory on some contracts.  I looked at the pictures that POGO put up, and that actually looks pretty standard for many contracts out there.  Hell, to some folks, I am sure those quarters looked pretty good.  There are contracts out there where guys are living in tents or whatever they can find, and that just comes with the job.

   But in light of the Adam Hermanson death, where he was electrocuted in a shower do to faulty wiring, you would think that TC and DoS would have insured that living quarters were up to contract standards.

   I will disagree with the live wire thing that POGO brought up in the pictures.  Those are power chords, and guys string up power chords all over the place in these barracks.  They have to if they want to get some juice for their computers and TVs.  So I think that comment about ‘live wires’ was kind of stupid.  Hell, they sell power strips and power chords in the PX of bases all over Iraq, and they are used by contractors and soldiers, and in all sorts of ways.

   For english standards, I agree that all guards must speak english–if it is mandated by the contract.  But let me yet again interject some reality into this conversation.  If most of our private security forces are local nationals in this war, and troops and contractors are working side by side with those local nationals, then it would stand to reason that you would have situations where folks do not know how to speak english or communicate with supervisors or NCO’s and Officers.  In a perfect world, everyone would speak english, but that just is not the case in this war.  That is why it is not a shock to me, that guys would not know how to speak english for a static security assignment like at the embassy(even if they are from Uganda or Peru or where ever).  I am sure many of the local nationals who work on the embassy compound do not speak english either. I agree that it would be nice that everyone spoke english, and especially if it is mandated by the contract, but this is not that big of a shocker.-Matt

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IG finds gaps in State oversight of embassy guard contracts

By Robert Brodsky

March 26, 2010

Private security guards responsible for protecting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad reside in unsafe living conditions, work as many as 39 days consecutively and are unable to speak required English, according to a leaked report from the State Department’s inspector general.

The Project on Government Oversight, a Washington watchdog group, obtained the report, which underscored many of same contract oversight problems discovered last year with ArmorGroup North America guards at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

While the Baghdad guard force run by Triple Canopy “has been effective in ensuring the safety of chief of mission personnel in Baghdad’s volatile security environment,” the new report found training and language deficiencies with the Herndon, Va.-based private security company.

The IG credited State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security for its management of the embassy contract, but also highlighted serious lapses in the bureau’s oversight. The department plans to officially release the report next week.

“The contracting officer’s representative in Baghdad does not verify either the guards’ attendance at their posts or the accuracy of personnel rosters (muster sheets) before they are submitted, to ensure contractor charges for labor are accurate,” the report stated.

Triple Canopy has roughly 1,800 employees on the embassy contract — more than 90 percent are third-party nationals from Peru and Uganda. The audit, conducted by the IG’s Middle East Regional Office, found that due to their low levels of English proficiency, some guard supervisors are unable to adequately communicate with their subordinates, which could lead to serious problems during an emergency.

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Podcasts: PMH Radio Interviews Danielle Brian of POGO

     Outstanding interview, and such a treat.  Thanks to Danielle and Jake for a an enlightening interview.  I learned a lot about what POGO is, and what it can do for this industry and my fellow security contractors. I am especially impressed with POGO’s dedication in keeping all communications with whistleblowers private and protected. -Matt

 

Listen to podcast here.

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