Sunday, September 13, 2009

U.S. Embassy Guard Contracts: Can We Stay Ahead of the Stupidity Curve?

The most sensible remarks I've seen so far on the snowballing scandal of U.S. Embassy Kabul's mismanaged guard force contract come from Tim Lynch, a former U.S. Marine who worked for the original guard contractor that took over from the U.S. Marine contingent which protected the embassy compound until 2005.

"Babatim" at Free Range International ("outside the wire, inside the loop") has many pertinent things to say about the business of U.S. embassy guard contracting, the management of expat security contractors, and the deficiencies of Camp Sullivan. A few quotes from his post on Animal House: The Real Story will give you the flavor.

On guard stupidity:

The main reason why managing these contracts is so difficult is that it is impossible to stay ahead of the stupidity curve your men will generate. There is no way to anticipate it because some of these guys do the most unbelievably stupid things sober; add alcohol and the potential for Darwin Award level stupidity goes up exponentially ... Your average young enlisted Marine has the ability to do stupid things too but they fall into an easily anticipated set of behaviors which savvy leadership can recognize and at times circumvent. Not true with contractors.

On corporate cupidity:

The problem with the current guard force is that they are on a shit contract. Ignore the money value published in the papers – that number is for five years executed at full value which is impossible to do. Armor Group North America is losing big money on that job and they are about to lose a lot more. [TSB note: Wackenhut Inc., the corporate successor to ArmorGroup North America, has testified they are losing $1 million per month by fully performing on the underbid contract they inherited.] I was asked by a few companies to consult on their bids for it back in 2006 and my answer was always the same – don’t bid because if you win you’ll lose money.

On lousy living conditions:

The pay thing is a problem which can be worked through with good on the ground leadership and incentives ... the real problem is with the living conditions and job requirements of the guard force. There is no space on [Camp Sullivan] for the men to do anything outside of their crammed barracks and they have little ability to get off camp. When you are designing camps to house hundreds of guards for years at a time you have to pay attention to their morale recreation and welfare needs ... If you do not think through what they are going to do off duty as thoroughly as their on duty tasks than you are set up to fail.

And on the need for adult supervision:

The Bridge contract [TSB note: the bridge contract was a stopgap measure to fill in the period between the cancellation of the original guard contract and the award of the next contract] had a bar which prevented excessive drinking or rowdiness due to peer level monitoring which worked for us due to the number of very talented older guys who were not inclined to tolerate too much drunken stupidity ... We did have to explain to the 3rd Para vets that anything involving nakedness and other men's rear ends was considered homosexual behavior by definition and therefore prohibited under the terms of our contract ... I guess nobody had that talk with the current crew on this contract.

The bottom line is that an awful mess was created when the irresistible force of U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulations, which require contract award to the lowest technically-qualified offeror, met the immovable object of security contractor greed in the high threat environment of Kabul.

Babatim has a suggestion for cleaning up the mess:

There is only [one] way to fix the Embassy contract and that is to cut the number of guards in half, make them all Americans and pull them into the embassy where they can work and live along side the other Americans.

That solution could work. At least, it's a lot more practical than the idea of having the U.S. military provide embassy perimeter guard services.


Anonymous said...

That would be nice if there was housing for them.

TSB said...

Right. Another couple hundred people couldn't possibly be housed in the present embassy facilities, so the only alternative to contractor-provided housing would be a DOS-owned and operated mancamp.

The original assumption was that the need for U.S. citizen and third country national guards would be short term, and in due time they would be replaced with Afghan guards who wouldn't have to be provided with housing. After 7 or 8 years, it's time to question that assumption. If we aren't going to replace the Gurhkas and ex-pats anytime soon, I like the idea of building a mancamp for them and giving them staff-like access to embassy facilities.

With a contractor-provided camp we pay all the costs and get all the problems anyway, so why not own the camp ourselves and provide better supervision?