Monday, June 21, 2010

Anticlimactic Hearing on New Blackwater Contract

The WaPo's Spy Talk column promised that Blackwater's new contract will be buzz of hearing today - that's the Commission on Wartime Contracting hearing - but, after watching the hearing on C-SPAN, I feel cheated out of excitment.

When hearings on war-zone security contractors continue Monday, representatives of the best known -- or most notorious -- firm in the business will not be at the witness table.

The firm's controversial track record in Iraq, from where it was recently evicted, won't be on the official docket either.

But the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting is going to be talking about Blackwater Worldwide (now known as XE Services) nevertheless, given word late Friday that the State Department had just awarded it a $120 million contract for work in Afghanistan.

Officials of the companies that lost out to Blackwater/XE are all scheduled to testify Monday afternoon on Capitol Hill. The commission is also going to take up new problems with private security guards in Iraq.

The Afghanistan contract, to provide “protective security services” at new U.S. consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, comes only four months after the Iraqi government expelled Blackwater/XE. Individuals from the firm are being prosecuted by the Justice Department for allegedly shooting unarmed civilians in Baghdad.

The company won the contract over two other American firms — Triple Canopy and DynCorp International, the Associated Press reported from Kabul, quoting U.S. embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. The one-year contract can be extended twice, for three months each, for a maximum of 18 months, the A.P. said.

-- snip --

Blackwater's expulsion from Iraq did not prohibit U.S. Training Center, a unit of Moyock, N.C.-based XE Services, from bidding on the Afghanistan contract, an unidentified State Department spokeswoman told CBS News, which broke the story Friday night.

"Under federal acquisition regulations, the prosecution of the specific Blackwater individuals does not preclude the company or its successive companies and subsidiaries from bidding on contracts," the spokeswoman was quoted as saying.

"On the basis of full and open competition, the department performed a full technical evaluation of all proposals and determined the U.S. Training Center has the best ability and qualifications to meet the contract requirements."

The hearing's first panel included Diplomatic Security's Deputy Assistant Director for International Programs Charlene Lamb (read her opening statement here), and she was able to provide a simple answer to the Commission's snarky question about why the U.S. Training Center, a unit of XE Services nee Blackwater, was the best qualified competitor for a contract to provide high-threat protection for the staffs of two new U.S. Consulates in Afghanistan. The reason is that they were the only company that could get people in place within the very short time frame State required in order to open those consulates on schedule.

I'm satisfied. Hey, security contracting is a competitive industry, and if Blackwater's competitors could match its performance then they wouldn't have to throw a pity party for themselves on Capitol Hill.

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